Community, elected officials rally around Tyson

Congressman Roger Marshall, left, looks on as Sen. Jerry Moran speaks during a meeting Tuesday to recognize the efforts of first responders during last weekend’s fire at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Holcomb.

By SCOTT AUST

Director of Communications/Finney County Economic Development

Nearly 50 people filled the second floor meeting room at Garden City’s Administrative Center on Tuesday morning to express gratitude to first responders for their outstanding efforts during the weekend fire at the Tyson Fresh Meats plant in Holcomb.

The event also showed the community’s and Tyson’s resolve to repair the plant and move forward.

Dr. Bill Clifford, Finney County Commission chairman, appreciated Tuesday’s turnout by federal, state and local elected officials and said the weekend fire could have been much worse and could have had lasting consequences for the community.

“This time’s different. I’m particularly grateful to Tyson and their outstanding ownership and leadership and management team,” Clifford said. “This company is determined to repair, rebuild and reopen on the fast track, and we in Finney County will try to stay out of their way in facilitating inspections and permits. This event reminds us that we’re all in this together.”

Tyson has announced it will continue paying its employees while repairs are made to the plant. In fact, workers have continued to show up for their shifts this week and will continue to do so.

Referring to the fire that destroyed the Con-Agra packing plant in the early 2000’s, Clifford said the response this time had a “different feel, and will have a different ending.”

“This time, we used the lessons from 2000 to effect a coordinated response of our first responders. At this time we have leaders and managers, though some are new to their positions, have been well trained by their predecessors,” Clifford said. “Chief Rick Collins was ready because Allen Shelton had prepared him. Emergency Manager Anthony Cruz was ready because the late Gilbert Valerio had prepared him.”

Clifford credited an “unprecedented” interagency cooperation in Finney County between the city, county, and schools in response to the fire. He also thanked Lona DuVall, Finney County Economic Development Corporation President and CEO, who acted as a point of contact for federal, state and local officials and Tyson plant manager Tony Lang; and acknowledged Myca Bunch, president of the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce, working with Tyson manager Pat Sanders.

Clifford praised the outpouring of support from local businesses, including Walmart, Sam’s Club, McDonalds East, Subway of Holcomb, Loves of Holcomb, Daylight Donuts, Pizza Hut, Jax Sports Grill, Dominos, Lewis Motors, Scheopner’s Water, Garden City Boxing Club, Robinson Oil, Finney County United Way, and Finney County Red Cross, but said there may have been many other businesses who assisted as well.

Interim Fire Chief Rick Collins talked about the response to the fire and pointed out that despite the video and photos that showed up in media and social media, the fire itself was contained in a relatively small area in the northwestern side of the Tyson plant.

Garden City Fire Department Interim Chief Rick Collins talks about the response to the weekend fire at Tyson using a map of the plant.

Four trucks responded from the Garden City Fire Department with roughly 18 firefighters on the ground. The GCFD also received some manpower support from the Holcomb Fire Department.

Collins called it “a pretty simple fire” in one room, similar in size to the second floor meeting room at the City Administrative Center, inside a large building.

“It was just a normal day at the office for us,” Collins said, adding that there were no injuries or fatalities of either Tyson employees or emergency responders.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, Congressman Roger Marshall and James Lane, District Director for Sen. Pat Roberts, attended Tuesday’s event. Roberts was unable to attend.

“When there’s a challenge, people rise to the occasion,” Moran said. He commended Garden City, Holcomb and Finney County for their response.

“It’s not just a job, a career or a paycheck, it’s about taking care of people you know, care about, love, and making certain nothing bad happens to them,” he said.

Moran also said he was pleased to hear a strong commitment from Tyson executives to repair the plant and resume full operations as soon as possible, and pointed out the importance of the Holcomb plant to the state and nation.

Nearly 25 percent of all beef that is packed in Kansas moves through Holcomb. Moran said USDA inspectors are still being paid and will continue to work, and said one of the things that will be looked at as far as the trucking industry is possibly issuing waivers on rules about hours of service in case cattle needs to be hauled farther to be processed.

“This something all Kansans will rally around Finney County to make sure the consequences are minimized,” Moran said. “I’ve been in a number of places since the fire, and it doesn’t matter where you are in Kansas people are concerned about what’s happened. It’s a reminder that Kansans rally to the well being of their neighbors.”

Marshall also praised the community support and rallying attitude to meet the issue head on and find solutions to the challenge. He said the Congressional delegation will work in lock step to provide assistance, and expressed confidence in Tyson and is appreciative of the company’s commitment to their nearly 3,800 employees.

State Sen. John Doll, and state Reps. John Wheeler and Russ Jennings also spoke during the event and expressed similar praise for the cooperation and leadership shown during the emergency.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly is expected to visit Garden City and tour the Tyson plant today.