Reliance Propane works to meet holiday demandWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
Reliance Propane is working to meet the demand for propane gas tanks faces during the Memorial Day holiday, one of its busiest times of the year, after the recent explosion and fire at its production facility in Erie Township, Mich.
“We’re doing everything we can to see that our customers have enough product for the Memorial Day weekend,” said Jim McVicker, vice president of operations at Reliance Propane. He was planning to personally drive his pickup full of propane tanks to a customer in Lima as part of that effort to supply customers.
“It’s a Herculean effort by the Miller family, management and employees of Reliance to meet that demand under such difficult circumstances,” said David Rohrbacher, attorney for the family-owned business.
Reliance Propane would normally distribute from 10,000 to 20,000 of the 20-pound propane tanks used primarily for gas grills during the Memorial Day weekend.
The company is in the tank exchange business, refurbishing and refilling the tanks and delivering them to distribution centers in Michigan, Ohio and northwest Indiana.
Reliance would normally have seven to nine trucks that hold from 285 to 516 tanks running daily to meet the demand. They have four company trucks and some leased trucks distributing 2,500 to 3,000 tanks per day, McVicker said.
Locally, Reliance Propane supplies propane tanks to The Andersons, Sterling Stores, In & Out Marts, Stop & Go shops, hardware stores and other propane outlets in the Toledo area and southeast Michigan.
That production line at Reliance was destroyed in the explosion and fire that occurred May 8. Despite losing 20 percent of their tank inventory, the company is working to keep 40,000 tanks in circulation.
McVicker said it could not be done without the help of other independent propane suppliers who are their competition.
“In a catastrophe like this, you find out who your friends are,” McVicker said.
“Ron Garst has allowed us to load gas at his facility in Petersburg (Mich.) pretty much keeping us in business. Independents like Garst try to help you out,” he said.
Garst said their families are pioneers in the propane business and have known each other for years. When they heard what happened, they knew how it would affect their business.
“We’re just glad to help out until they can recover. We’re confident they’ll get through it,” Garst said.
Reliance is trucking more than 1,200 cylinders per day from Tri-State Cylinder in Reading, Mich., located near the Ohio and Indiana borders.
The day after the fire, McVicker ordered two truckloads, or about 3,600 tanks, shipped to Tri-State. Reliance ordered a total of 8,000 new tanks to replace the ones destroyed and maintain their service level of 40,000.
At the same time, the company is dealing with recovering from the damage caused by the explosion and fire. McVicker said they have not yet determined the total amount of the loss, but are working with Federated Insurance and expect a report soon.
Rohrbacher said he and company officials met with two senior safety inspectors from OHSA on May 21 and would have their report within three weeks. He also said they are working with OHSA to develop new safety standards for the production process.
Investigators from the local fire department, insurance company and OHSA determined that the probable cause of the explosion and fire was a static electrical charge causing the gas being vented off of tanks being refurbished to explode. The hot temperatures and low humidity contributed to the conditions where the work was being conducted outdoors, Rohrbacher said.
“Workers were doing nothing out of the ordinary that would have caused a spark,” he said. “Wilcox was working as he was trained to act safely in that position. Propane is only flammable in a narrow range of concentration.”
Robert Wilcox Jr. of Toledo was injured in the explosion that occurred where he was working. Wilcox was replacing valves and repairing tanks while following industry standard practices.
“We believed it was a safe practice,” Rohrbacher said.
The attorney said the company is changing the method used to vent gas from tanks so this kind of event can be avoided in the future. “It will employ a different practice to substantially reduce that risk,” he said.
Reliance has kept Wilcox on the company’s payroll instead of putting him on workers compensation, Rohrbacher said. It is also working with Wilcox to get him back on the job as quickly as possible.
McVicker said Reliance has been able to continue its commercial and industrial propane business without interruption. Home delivery and motor fuel filling was not affected by the disaster.
Reliance is already working with Rudolph|Libbe Inc. of the Toledo area on plans to rebuild the facility. The company plans to use local sources for design, materials and construction of the new plant, McVicker said.
Reliance received hundreds of calls, e-mails and letters of support from clients, competitors and business associates following the disaster. Many offered to help the company in whatever way they could, McVicker said.
“The entire OPGA family was saddened to learn of the fire at Reliance Propane in Michigan. Our hearts go out to Harold Miller and his staff,” said David Field, executive vice president of the Ohio Propane Gas Association in an e-mail.