School buses, garage destroyed by fire
Joe Schieffert, owner of the Superior Transportation bus service, was awakened by a ringing telephone at 11:30 Friday night and told that his bus garage was on fire.
“I was thinking it can’t be true,” Schieffert recalled, but within minutes was on his way from his home in Sleepy Eye to Springfield.
“I had visions of getting over here and finding that at least some buses were outside,” Schieffert said. However, while driving to Springfield he was receiving reports. “Within five minutes of me realizing that the bus garage was on fire, I was told that it was too far gone,” Schieffert recalled. The fire had spread and every piece of equipment inside that building was engulfed in flames.
Despite the forewarning, when he arrived at the scene, “It was really a shock that there was so much damage to the building as well,” Schieffert said.
Schieffert has owned the local bus service only three months. He purchased the service from Kenneth Richert and assumed ownership and operations on February 1, 2015.
Officers Joe Micka and Mike Salazar were about to change shifts when a man ran into the police station reporting smoke in the area. The officers responded with action and called in the alarm.
Alarm sounded at 11:30 p.m.
Springfield Fire Depart-ment received the call at 11:30 p.m., but the fire was already out of control when they arrived on the scene just minutes later.
Within minutes, a number of Springfield residents had called 9-1-1 to report sounds like “a bomb or shots.” The loud popping sounds were caused by tires exploding in the fire.
Within 20 minutes of the alarm, all residents living within a block and a half of the bus garage were informed of the situation.
Fire fighters had a difficult time fighting the fire in the wooden framed building with steel exterior. They couldn’t get at the flames because the large overhead doors were locked. “It was a very hot fire. The south wall of the building was glowing orange,” said Fire Chief Chuck Bauman. “About all we could do was shoot water at seams as they opened up.”
Springfield Public Works Superintendent Gene Haas was called and he came with the city’s payloader and tore the garage doors open so that firemen could douse the flames.
Sleepy Eye Fire Depart-ment was called to assist in fighting the fire and they came with their aerial ladder truck and a pumper. “That made a big difference” in fighting the fire, said the fire chief.
Fire fighters poured plenty of water on adjacent properties.
Neighbor Jerry Hauth drove his semi tractor and trailer to a safer place, and took a truck and boat from the quonset on the west side of the bus garage. Tires stored in the east side of the quonset were hot when they were rolled out, Hauth said.
Most of the firemen and the Sleepy Eye Department left the scene around 3 a.m. Saturday, while seven local firemen remained on surveillance, “watching for hot spots,” said the fire chief.
“The interior of buses are designed to be flame resistant,” Schieffert explained. However, there are flammable materials in buses. The floors of buses are wood in steel frames. Tires are very flammable and there’s lots of fuel on board. Diesel fuel continued to feed the fire. The buses on average were one-half or three-quarters filled with fuel.
Recovery efforts begin
Needless to say, Schieffert didn’t return to sleep, but went to work immediately to put in place a plan so there would be no interruptions in transportation services.
Schieffert called North Central Bus Sales, St. Cloud. “They have been a dealer for this bus garage for many years. Sales rep Dennis Knutson has been a person I have worked with over the years in the bus business and recently I had purchased several buses from the company. We were having phone dealings in very early hours of the morning Saturday,” he said. Schieffert was reassured that the company would provide the buses needed.
Schieffert gathered a group of bus drivers as well as family members and went to St. Cloud Sunday and returned with six school buses. A seventh bus was loaned from Sleepy Eye Bus Service
“Everything ruined in the fire is covered by insurance and was insured properly,” Schieffert said.
Cause of the fire has not been determined. The fire marshal viewed the damage on Saturday morning, and Schieffert’s insurance representative came Saturday afternoon. The fire marshal has said that he has narrowed the area of the building to where he believes the fire could have started. The insurance company is sending an investigator in a day or two to help narrow it down.
Arson is very unlikely, according to the fire marshal.
Plans for rebuilding
Schieffert said he will rebuild the fleet of buses and the building. “We’ll start our planning process shortly,” he said Monday. But, before buses are purchased and the building constructed, he plans to meet with his drivers. “I want to go over building ideas with them,” he said. “The garage had its limitations. We made it work.” He had planned to make improvements to the building this summer, but his priority was getting the bus fleet established. The building was not long enough to allow the opening of bus hoods in the building and inspections had to be done outdoors, and that was difficult in inclement weather. The building was not well lighted and heavy overhead doors had to be opened manually. “I need that facility to be well lit, with garage door openers,” Schieffert stated. “We are limited with space, so we’ll have to do as much as we can with the space we have.”
“It’s difficult to see the good in something like this,” Schieffert commented. “But, I’m done thinking about why and what could have been, and I’m focused on the school and that it doesn’t see a hiccup, and that we continue on. We’ll figure out all the details as we go.”
“I’m grateful that nobody got hurt. It could have been much worse. Buses can be replaced. Peoples lives can’t,” he concluded.