Wendell August Forge Destroyed By Fire -My Account Of The Day

Once in a rare while I will post something on MusTech.Net that has nothing to do with Music, Education, or Technology -this is one of those times.  Wendell August Forge is a Local and National Treasure; people from all over the world have beautiful items that were forged there.  The loss is staggering.

The large reach of MusTech.Net will carry this message to those looking to find out more information about this tragedy and to inform about the spirit of our community.   Wendell August Forge was America’s oldest and largest forge -until ironically, it was destroyed by fire today.

View the photos of the day via Flickr Photostream:

Click the Play Button to start. Then, click on the arrow “X” in the lower right corner and click “SHOW INFO” in the upper right corner for text annotations.

Sometime after 2:00 p.m. today (March 6th), Wendell August Forge caught on fire, by 6:00 p.m., it was completely destroyed.  This post is a brief account from my vantage point as a witness to the event.

While my wife and I were out at the Grove City Outlet earlier in the day, we saw huge plumes of smoke emanating from atop Grove City.  It wasn’t long before our phones started ringing with calls from our friends telling us that Wendell August Forge was on fire.   I decided that it would be best if I headed over to the forge directly to see if I could lend any assistance and to observe our Police, Fire, and EMS teams first hand.   Although to many that read MusTech.Net it would seem odd that I would do that (as you know me as an educator and musician), I have a vested interested in the Welfare of the community as an elected councillor and the chair of the Police and Fire Committee.

While on route home, I called my fellow councillor, Jeffrey Black, and we decided to drive to the scene together.  I picked him up at his house and we left for the forge.   The time was approx. 4:00 p.m. when we arrived on the scene.

When Jeff and I arrived, the Emergency Trucks were lined up on Madison Ave all the way to Pine Street (many blocks) and most of the side streets were closed for blocks as well.  The streets were so lined with fire-hoses that it looked like spaghetti had landed from the “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” movie.

Well over 10 fire companies had arrived on the scene and were working like an organized army to deal with the fire.  One of the first people we came across was fireman Todd Wood.  He was organizing much of the rear effort of the fire and he told us that, for the most part, the fire was beginning to be under control and that he believed nothing would be saved of the forge.  After a brief chat, we continued down the avenue.  

Next, we ran into the owner of Superior Ambulance, Doug Dick. He and a team of EMS personnel were making sure that the area was secured and that the firefighters were not getting over exhausted -strength-wise or heat-wise.   Doug had informed me much later in the day that when he got the call about the fire he was able to have a fleet of seven ambulances on the road to Wendell August Forge within 15 minutes.  He and some of the ambulances were there in mere minutes.  What a great service they provide to our community.

One of the Salvation Army trucks was parked very near this location.  This is where I later met a fellow by the name of Joe -he headed up the relief effort for the Salvation Army.  As soon as they heard about the size of the fire on their scanner, they “loaded up” and set course for Grove City.  The Salvation Army truck team, along with volunteers from the Red Cross, were there to provide relief to the Firefighters, EMS, and Police in the form of food and water.   It was a great to see them there providing that service to our men and women.

As we neared the three-quarter way to the forge (we had to park blocks away because of all the equipment), we came across a number of firefighters that were handling the reservoirs of water in make-shift pools.  Because of the size of the fire, the tanker trucks were loading water from off-site hydrants and then taking them to these pools to offload.  It was a well-oiled effort.

Our first sighting of the forge came in huge cloud of smoke as the south-end of the building was still on fire and engulfed in smoke.  In the distance we could see firefighters still battling the fire and winning.  We could easily see the ladder truck with a mounted hose turret laying down a constant barrage of water on and inside the forge from on high.

It didn’t take long to see that Todd was right earlier, the forge was a total loss.  We could literally see  through much of it and the roof had collapsed in many places.  When we arrived at the forge itself, we came across Jeff Badger, the GC fire chief, he very busy and in the midst of detailing plans to a large mixed-company group of firefighters.  This was certainly a multi-task force operation.

When we arrived at the main entrance to the forge, Assistant Fire Chief and town Councillor Jeffrey Hodge was surveying the damage.  I came to find out the Jeff was one of the first on the scene and made the call to bring in more companies and escalate the status of the situation.   Also, when it was believed that there was still a person in the building, Jeff risked his life to go in and search.  Fortunately, the person was able to get out and so was Jeff.  It is amazing to me just what true heroes these home-town men and women are.

About that time, I bumped into another Councillor, Joel Bigley.  He had been there almost from the onset helping in any way that he could.  He was part of the personnel that took some of the salvaged treasures and office items form the forge off the hands of the firefighters when they brought them out and moved the items to safety. 

It was about this time that Todd Wood ran up to Jeff and I and asked us if we had a “loose” car available -meaning one that wasn’t blocked in by the unbelievable amount of emergency gear and vehicles.  We did -about 5 blocks from there.  Todd had explained that despite the arrival of the Salvation Army vehicle and teams, there was not enough food and water for all of the emergency personnel that had been there for hours by this point -many of which were exhausted and hungry.   Jeff Black and I raced off to my truck. I started dialing 411 immediately to get the numbers of local business so I could call them en-route.

It is unbelievable the charity of these organizations that I called, upon hearing me inform them of the situation, we were able to line up 50 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s, 10 cases of water from County Market, and 30 Pizzas from Lil’ Caesars.  All of which we picked up and delivered to the Salvation Army/Red Cross folks within 25 minutes.  In addition, Four Star, Pizza Hut, and Jordan’s Pizza delivered quite a bit a food and supplies to the forge site themselves.   I am very proud of our community for their efforts.

By this time, the forge was still smoking, but the fire was out -for the most part…. It must have been around 5:30-5:45 p.m.   When we arrived back to Madison Ave., Rich Talbert, another Town Councillor, had arrived to help out.  He was instrumental in helping us disseminate all of this food to the Emergency Personnel.  

When we made it back to the forge again, I saw Will Knecht (the current President of Wendell August Forge).  I had a chance to speak with him.  He was clearly distraught over the entire situation as anyone in his situation would be, but full of strength.  We had a brief discussion and he spoke very clearly about the re-birth of the forge.   It seems like very likely that, out of the ashes of the old forge, a new one will be “forged” again.    I had heard another story from a firefighter that concerned Will… When they were still trying to salvage anything that they could from the building, one of them upon exiting handed Will a portrait that he was just barely able to save.  When Will looked at it… it was a portrait of he and his father…

I took a picture of all that was salvaged the forge, it seems only a small amount of items were left from something that was so rare, historic, and valuable to the community.  Doug Thomas and his team of workers, much later, were helping to clear out and move to storage these items…George Pokrant (Council President, had arrived a little later in the day) and I were discussing that we should move the valuable items out first…problem was everything that was left WAS valuable.  From Bill Knecht’s priceless collection of drawing “cells”, to letters from dignitaries, to some of the forge art itself -it all was valuable and rooted in the community’s history. 

At this point, I had to begin to make my departure.  It was getting extremely cold and I was not dressed for the sudden drop in temperature and getting tired myself.   On the way out, I ran into one last interesting situation that tells of the great community of Grove City…  Bill Limberg (Grove City Library Board and past GC Councillor) was talking to a couple, from well out of town, with Joel Bigley.  The couple was literally “stuck”  in GC because they were visiting the forge when the fire broke out… their car was “parked-in” because of all the equipment.  When I left the conversation, Bill was making arrangements for them at a local hotel and planning on driving them out to the hotel himself! 

As I made my way back-down Madison Ave and saw all of the firefighters and Emergency personnel beginning to clear away some their gear further away from the forge itself,  I couldn’t help but feel sad for such a tremendous loss of  a particular kind of art form that was so dear to our community -an art form that helped to make the community itself into the thriving place that it is today.    I really do hope that the forge will rise from the ashes again to be part of Grove City again as Will Knecht indicated.

I am truly proud of our community and all of the people in it, especially all that had helped-out in some way with today’s terrible event.  Today it was very easy to see why people love our community and how we all come together to support each other.   On behalf of the Grove City Borough, I thank each and everyone of the Police, Fire, Emergency Medics, and others that helped us today.  You are all amazing and truly heroes.

Joseph M. Pisano, Ph.D. is the creator of many education websites, a lecturer, clinician, trumpeter, and conductor. He is currently the Associate Chair of Music and Director of Bands in the Calderwood School of Arts at Grove City College in PA. He been named a TI:ME Teacher of the Year, received the JEN Jazz Educator Award and the PA Citation of Excellence. He is a past Vice President of the Technology Institute for Music Educators and the current Vice-President of the PA Intercollegiate Bandmasters Association. He also writes for DCI Magazine, Teaching Music Magazine, and is the Educational Editor for In-Tune Monthly Magazine; he has contributed hundreds of articles to various publications. Find out more at his website jpisano.com.
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