Jeremy Deppe received a text message at 4 a.m. on a chilly January morning. It was from his father, Dale Deppe, the owner of Spring Meadow Nursery, and it included a photo of the nursery’s office engulfed in flames.
Jeremy, the nursery’s general manager, was six hours away attending his son’s soccer tournament.
“I told my wife and kids, ‘I’ve got to go,’” he says. “You’ll have to find a way home because I’m leaving right now.”
By the time he made it back from Ohio to Grand Haven, Mich., the fire crews had left and the office was a smoldering ruin.
Firefighters from six different townships had worked through the night to subdue the blaze. The first fire crews responded within five minutes of receiving the 2:48 a.m. call reporting the fire. But when they arrived on the scene, the roof of the office building had already collapsed. The fire chief from Robinson Township, Spring Meadow’s local department, knows how valuable the greenhouses are to the business. In fact, when his crew first arrived, their first move wasn’t to begin working on the office – the building that was actually on fire. They touched the walls of the greenhouses closest to the office, found that they were hot to the touch, and started hosing them off. If not for that quick-thinking action, the fire might have claimed the high-value structures and young plants housed within them. The firefighters continued working through the night until nearly 8 a.m., and ultimately succeeded in protecting the nursery’s multimillion dollar investments in plants and structures.
After the fire crews left, the Spring Meadow staff started combing through the wreckage. There wasn’t much to save.
“We found some books, T-shirts, coffee mugs but they were all charred up,” Jeremy says. The nursery’s IT team tried to salvage the company’s servers, but they were unrecoverable.
However, the nursery was prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. Most of the nursery’s documents and data were backed up digitally, but some important paperwork was stored in fireproof cabinets in the office. The cabinets held contracts with several large customers, as well as plant patent and trademark documents. The fireproof cabinets lived up to their name. Some of the files on the top shelves were slightly damp from steam released as the cabinets heated up during the blaze, and everything reeked of smoke, but all of the files survived. Spring Meadow is contracting with a company to clean and scan those documents, so they will have digital copies of everything going forward.
Of course, the destruction of the office created plenty of logistical difficulties for the nursery. The phone system, internet and computer networks were all housed in the office. There was no drinkable water, because the well used for that particular purpose was in that building. Several of Spring Meadow’s greenhouses were electronically controlled from that office.
The Spring Meadow team began the reconstruction effort by asking questions and setting priorities. One of the first decisions the group made was to use the lunchroom as the new office. Once that decision was made, the next steps could be set in motion. The top priorities were getting electricity back and being able to control the greenhouses again, getting water up and running so employees could use the bathrooms, and re-establishing communication with the outside world. Spring Meadow brought in contractors to add electrical outlets and wiring, fiber and network connections for 40-plus new computers.
Water and power were back by Monday, internet was back on Tuesday, environmental controls were in place by Wednesday and employees’ computers were mostly set up by Friday. In many ways, Spring Meadow was back to business within a week, though Jeremy says that has less to do with Spring Meadow than its business partners. For instance, Argus Controls, Spring Meadow’s main supplier of environmental controls, overnighted new main units to replace those lost in the fire. The production team didn’t have to hand-water its liners for long.
“You’re only as good as your partners,” he says. “A lot of this work was done by outside contractors that we use on a regular basis. We called them on Sunday afternoon and said ‘We’ve had a fire. We’re going to need your help this week.’ They did whatever they had to do to be here and get us back up and going. They worked some long hours to do it. To me, they’re not vendors, they’re partners. It’s times like these where it really shines through that they care about us and we care about them. We help each other out.”
Photo: Rob Sackyta