Up In Smoke

Columns From: Products Finishing, ,

Posted on: 10/25/2011

Fire nearly destroys Cleveland filtration company Met-Chem.

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When he’s not running his company that sells wastewater treatment equipment for the finishing industry, Met-Chem’s Wally Senney will often join fellow parishioners of his church near Cleveland and visit countries like Haiti, where poverty is a way of life and personal belongings are only a pipedream.
 
“Those people have very little, if anything at all,” says Senney, who also runs several other companies such as Poly Products, Samsco and Auto Technology. “But yet they all seemed so happy with so little earthly belongings, it was remarkable.”
 
Those visits to Haiti flashed before Senney’s eyes one afternoon back in June when he heard someone yell that his building was on fire. The flames were roaring through the rafters at a dizzying pace, caused by a roofer who was patching a seam with a hot torch.
 
As Senney stood on the curb and watched firefighters battle the fire and work to save his company’s equipment and supplies, he thought back to his Caribbean visits … “those people have very little.”
 
“It dawned on me quickly that I was about to lose everything I’ve worked for in my lifetime,” he says. “Thankfully the firemen were quick and they were able to put it out before everything was destroyed.”
 
We’ve chronicled finishing businesses that, in a flash, lose everything they’ve built because of a fire or tornado or other destruction. But it never loses the life-changing impact it can have on people.
 
Senney and his various companies had trained for such emergencies, so the nearly 75 employees who were in the building that day all got out safely, even though a roofer was trapped on the building’s roof until he could be rescued by fire personnel.
 
But what remained of his company was a shell of itself.
 
“We’ll have to rebuild,” Senney told the local newspaper at the time. “I don’t know if it will be here, but we obviously need a place to house our company.”
 
Fast forward three months to this fall, and Senney’s company is back up and running in the same locations. He attributes the quick rebuild to great employees who helped move equipment and rearrange inventory to get things back in working order … and a good insurance policy that helped him get back on his feet quickly.
 
“We were back in full production in about a week,” he says. “We own a building across the street, so we could move some things over there and get it up and operational pretty quickly. That helped a lot, to get into a place with a roof over our heads and get things moving again.”
 
Not that things went all that smoothly. His phone service didn’t work. After trying to get lines installed, he eventually ran his own lines to re-route sales calls to the right people so that he could still talk with his customers.
 
“My biggest fear was losing customers,” he says. “Once they know you can’t service them, then they’ll find someone else and you’ll probably never get them back. But we moved quickly to let everyone know we were still in business.”
 
Part of Senney’s work crew includes a group of African refugees who came to the U.S. through various church groups. He helped them get jobs, and even hired some of them to work at his companies. When the fire hit, those employees knew all too well what it feels like to have nothing and start from scratch all over again.
 
“All of my employees were tremendous, but especially that group who have had a very rough life,” Senney says. “Some speak very little English, but they really helped me get things back in order. We all came together for a common goal.”
 
“Having something like this happen to my company puts everything into perspective,” he says. “There are times when you just say to yourself, ‘I am blessed.’”
 
 
 

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