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March 12, 2010

Tested by fire, Wendell August will forge on

Historic building ‘pretty much a loss’; no one hurt

Twenty-one fire departments banded together Saturday to put down one of the worst fires in Grove City in years – which has touched countless people in the community, nation and beyond.

“I appreciate everything surrounding firefighters did for us,” said Jeff Badger, Grove City fire chief.

Grove City firefighters got a call around 1:35 p.m. Saturday that Wendell August Forge, a historic business in town on Madison Avenue, was engulfed in flames.

Wendell August makes decorative plates and ornaments out of bronze, pewter, silver, copper and aluminum with hand-carved steel dies.

Its craftsmanship is an American treasure, and its business is one of a kind in the nation.

“This is a great loss to the whole industry,” said Dr. Tom Armour, a retired local physician, whose famous metal-designing father, Arthur Armour, got his start at Wendell August in 1932.

The forge seemed to come to an end when firefighters arrived on Saturday, however. Flames were “coming out of the front of the building towards Madison,” Badger said.

About 20 employees and patrons were there when the fire began, he said, noting that everyone got out safely.

The fire began in the forge’s factory when an employee was spraying lacquer in a paint booth “on the bronze stuff they were making,” he said.

Badger wasn’t sure how the lacquer ignited, but “there was a fire outside the paint booth where the vent fan had been,” he said. “Evidently, the vent fan malfunctioned.”

The fire took about three hours to ”get under control,” the chief said. “We worked on overhaul another eight hours.”

Firefighters left the scene around 10:30 p.m., went back an hour later, and wrapped up at the fire station around 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

“There was a lot of fire for one thing, that’s why it took so long,” Badger said.

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live united fire merkel.jpg

The Grove City Area United Way is kicking off a summer campaign that features locals who are examples of how to "Live United." The first, Greg Merkle, above, has been a volunteer firefighter with the Grove City Volunteer Fire Department for 14 years. "It all started when I was 16 years old living in Harrisville, and was a volunteer with their department for eight and a half years. After moving to Grove City, I missed being with a volunteer fire department, so I decided to join Grove City's Department. What I like the most of being part of the GCVFD is that I've been able to help the community. If you are looking for ways to help, serving here would be a great way to do it." Later this summer, readers will have a chance to submit stories and win prizes.

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