Fighting a fire at your own business: Pagel’s Dairy co-owner lived that experience
KEWAUNEE – Imagine what it's like for a firefighter to get called out in the middle of the night — for their own place.
Bryan Pagel lived that experience.
Pagel, a co-owner of Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy and volunteer firefighter with the Kewaunee Fire Department, was paged at about 2 a.m. on June 6 for a fire at the dairy complex.
"Yeah, there was an extreme adrenalin rush when the pager went off and it was our farm," Pagel said. "I don't think I could have run out the door any faster. But when you get there, your instincts kick in. I knew where all the shutoffs were on the digester."
The fire was in the building that houses the business' anaerobic manure digester and dryer.
The digester, which holds two 1.6 million gallon tanks of manure, kills the bacteria and pathogens in the manure over a 21-day period and creates methane which generates enough energy to power almost 1,100 homes. Last year, Pagel's entered a partnership with DTE Energy of Manitowoc to install a system that compresses the clean methane into renewable natural gas used by DTE. The dryer turns the cleaned-up manure into bedding for the farm's 5,000-plus cows. Decontaminating the manure also makes its odor much less noticeable, Pagel said.
Pagel said the fire was sparked by a wire on a conveyor system between the digester and the dryer. There were no animals in the building and no employees on hand because of the time, but it was important to act quickly because of the manure and gases.
"I actually was one of the first ones on the scene," Pagel said. "The first thing I did was shut off the fuel supplies, then had the guys bring out my equipment."
The fire took about four hours to bring under control, Pagel said. Along with the Kewaunee department, other fire teams responded, as well as police and emergency squads, and the company's Facebook page says employees also came out to see if they could help.
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No employees or animals were harmed in the fire, but the building was severely damaged and the roof had to be rebuilt. Pagel didn't attach a dollar amount to the damages, but he said it took about a month to repair everything and get the bedding dryer back up and running, although the digester was able to keep operating throughout.
"There was a significant amount of damage to the building, to the structure itself," Pagel said. "But we were able to save all the equipment inside. We managed to keep all the equipment wet, keep the heat off of it. There was a decent amount of damage, everything got hot, but it could've been worse."
The fire, and the repair work, also added to the pressures Pagel has faced this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said. Many already-struggling dairy farms in Wisconsin had trouble finding buyers for their milk and cheeses when restaurants and schools closed or limited their services because of the pandemic and the state's safer-at-home order, and some farmers ended up dumping their milk because of it.
However, Pagel said the dairy was able to survive the spring and summer. The business did close its Green Bay restaurant and farm market, The Cannery, because of the pandemic-related slowdown, but he said sales of its Ponderosa Farmstead and Ron's Wisconsin cheeses actually rose a little, probably because people were eating and cooking more at home.
"We've been fairly lucky," Pagel said. "We were extremely fortunate we didn't have to (dump milk). It was quite stressful this summer. There was additional work. But you just keep moving forward."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Fighting a fire at your own business: Pagel's Dairy co-owner lived that experience