THREE RIVERS, Mich.—Southern Michigan Rubber Inc. lived a manufacturer's worst nightmare.
In 2013, the firm's operation in Three Rivers caught fire, leaving the business out of commission and surrounded in uncertainty. President Marel Riley-Ryman knew there was only one path forward.
Rebuild, and rebuild they did.
"I never stopped for a minute to think let's not do this," Riley-Ryman said. "We had 27 people that would have been without jobs. Most of our people live within five miles, some don't have drivers' licenses, some ride bicycles."
The fire started at 1:30 p.m. and with the site being far away from the nearest fire department, it took a while for them to reach the scene. Riley-Ryman said, however, that the Southern Michigan team was able to go into the building's office—which was separated by a firewall—and save invaluable documents, computers and other information.
Eventually, there were 10 fire departments with 10 tankers and three swimming pools set up to fight the fire. At one point, they were pumping so much water out of one nearby lake that they had to stop. Riley-Ryman said the crew was still full pumping at 6:30 that evening and still fighting it at 11:30 that night.
"Everyone was watching it and you're totally helpless," Riley-Ryman said. "The smoke was so black you could see it all the way to Elkhart (Ind., 30 miles southwest of Three Rivers). It was the blackest, blackest smoke you'd ever see.
"Every time you turned around there was fire shooting out of another hole. You're standing there and watching it and asking what you can do."