Departments waiting for insurance payment after Hoopeston fire

Departments waiting for insurance payment after Hoopeston fire

HOOPESTON — The Hoopeston and Rossville volunteer fire departments are still trying to replace equipment ruined during a fire at a former tire recycling company this past summer.

Both departments have had difficulty getting their insurance companies to replace equipment that was ruined, which includes the coats, pants and boots that firefighters wore and water hoses from the trucks.

The massive tire fire that started June 19 at the former J&R Used Tire Service Inc., 103 Maple St., Hoopeston, emitted chemicals that permeated the firefighters' gear, compromising its protective ability. And metal shards from the used tires were all over the fire scene and tore up the water hoses as they were moved around the site.

Earlier this summer, Hoopeston Assistant Fire Chief Joel Bird estimated a loss of about $50,000 in gear and equipment. The Rossville department, which was one many that provided assistance to Hoopeston, also had damage to firefighters' suits.

Lloyd Smith, Rossville fire chief, said his department is still fighting with its insurance company to get equipment replaced. He said the company, Bliss McKnight, wanted the suits professionally cleaned, which the insurance paid for, but the an independent contractor still maintains that the equipment is not safe, because the waterproofing has been destroyed. Smith said the suits are still black after the cleaning and have oils on them, so the department is pushing for the insurance company to replace them entirely.

Smith said the fire department pays $8,000 a year for its insurance and has not had more than minor claims in years. He said the department will likely be shopping around for another insurance company. Other area departments, he said, like Bluegrass and Rankin-East Lynn that also fought the fire in Hoopeston, have already had their equipment replaced by their insurance companies.

Smith said in the meantime, the department has replaced eight of the 16 sets of firefighter gear using money from its operating budget, because it's not safe to send firefighters into situations with the old gear. It costs about $2,100 per firefighter for new gear. The other eight still need replacing, but they're waiting for a resolution with the insurance company. He said the department went ahead and replaced hoses, too, and didn't bother turning those into insurance.

As the Hoopeston department wrangles with its insurance situation, the community has stepped up to help.

On Oct. 5, more than 15 Hoopeston businesses and organizations held a fundraiser that brought in more than $16,000 to replace damaged equipment from the tire fire. The committee that organized the fundraiser included representatives from Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center, the city of Hoopeston, the Jaycees, the Rotary Club and local radio station WHPO.

In a news release about the fundraiser, Hoopeston Fire Chief Cliff Crabtree said the support from the community has been overwhelming. He said the department can never repay the kindness of so many business owners, citizens, and organizations but hopes to show everyone that their generosity will not be forgotten by continuing to serve and protect the community.

Static electricity from maintenance on a processing machine early in the morning June 19 ignited dust and tire-processing fluff, causing the fire, according to the Illinois fire marshal's office.

The blaze produced a massive heavy black smoke plume and led to the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residences in Hoopeston, the closure of Illinois 9 for three days and the closure of the CSX railroad line for 24 hours.

It also caused a fish kill in a nearby creek and required more than 100 volunteer and full-time firefighters from more than 20 fire departments in the area to work in shifts around the clock for at least two days, and a smaller contingent to continue on standby or remain on call for weeks to continue putting out hot spots.

The owners of J&R, Rodney and Janie Rogers of Potomac, hired a private contractor to do the cleanup of the fire site that included an almost 400,000-square-foot building. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency had officials and private contractors overseeing the cleanup, which took weeks to accomplish.

The business had housed more than 50,000 tires in addition to several large piles of shredded tires and tire pieces, like sidewalls and treads; as well as a tank with 1,500 gallons of fuel and three diesel tanks with 500 gallons of fuel each, for a total of 3,000 gallons of fuel on the property.

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