Family-owned Pitsch Companies turns to backup plan after fire as investigation begins

Posted at 7:08 PM, Jul 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-02 19:08:57-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- One building at Grand Rapids-based Pitsch Companies in a massive fire Wednesday night, on Richmond Street Northwest. Thursday morning, fire investigators looked for the cause while company president Steven Pitsch expressed gratitude for the help his company received and that no one was hurt.

“I just wanted to say 'Thank you' to all of the fire departments that responded: Grand Rapids, Walker," Pitsch said. "They did a spectacular job on wetting down the buildings and all the rest of the equipment that was sitting outside of the building, so we did not have a loss on that."

Pitsch said he could see the smoke from four miles away. “I was actually at the Whitecaps game and got a call from one of my employees," Pitsch told FOX 17.

Pitsch rushed over and firefighters were already on the job. It took them about 45 minutes to quell the flames. Small propane and fuel tanks could be heard exploding inside the building, which Pitsch said was a repair shop.

For Pitsch, perspective kept his emotions in check, but afterward he felt "sadness, but also glad that no one was here. No one was hurt. Buildings and machinery can be replaced," he said.

Pitsch's father started the business in 1958, and it has been in the family every since.

Fire officials on the scene Wednesday night said they needed daylight to start their investigation. Thursday morning, Grand Rapids fire inspector Kevin Robinson said they took pictures up in a bucket for a bird’s eye as they tried to pinpoint the cause.

“There’s so many things that could have happened here because of the nature of the work and their processes,” Robinson said.

Pitsch said the ruined building was the repair shop where mechanics worked on company vehicles and equipment. Employees had a standard operating procedure where they turned off and unplugged equipment at the end of their shifts.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Robinson said it was determined that the fire started on the south side of the building and worked its way north, causing $1 million in damage.

​"[There is] a lot of debris there, a lot of metal," Robinson explained. "There was heavy equipment in there, as you saw. So all that stuff is on top of each other. You know, it collapsed, basically. So the roof came down on what's there, and then we had to move some of that to get to where the fire was."

"Coming up with a direct cause of origin will be a little harder to do, because things have been moved around and disturbed."

Robinson said two employees had come back to the business and clocked out around 8 p.m. They told investigators everything was fine when they punched out.

Pitsch and the company will to move forward as best as they can. They plan to use the building next door as the new repair shop. He said the company purchased the space two years ago and rarely used the front.

“This actually will work perfect for us. We’re gonna jump right in here and get set up," he said.

Robinson said the fire department will resume its investigation after the July 4th holiday.