More than 500 people have been left jobless after an out-of-control fire destroyed a beef processing plant Wednesday in Rapid
As state and local officials began plans to
help the unemployed, faith-based disaster response
groups were already foreseeing serious long-term needs
in this community.
Many of the employees at the Federal Beef Processors
plant were paid minimum wage and had no other job
experience aside from their work at the plant. Before
the fire was even extinguished, plant employees were
lined up at the One Stop Career Center in downtown Rapid
City to fill out unemployment claims.
South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow on Thursday directed
state Labor Secretary Craig Johnson to take a team of
specialists to Rapid City on Friday to help workers who
were left unemployed. "Hundreds of people have been put
of work because of this fire and we need to provide
rapid response services to them as soon as possible,"
Janklow said in a statement.
The Rapid City One-Stop Career Center and the Career
Learning Center of the Black Hills held a meeting Friday
morning for Federal Beef Processors workers who are now
without employment, the statement from Janklow said. The
meeting will offer information on the availability of
services including unemployment insurance, employment
opportunities, employment counseling, and retraining
When the fire flared up, officials became concerned that
the building might collapse on a 1,500-gallon ammonia
tank inside the burning plant. The toxic anhydrous
ammonia was used for refrigeration at the plant.
The local high school, which is in close proximity to
the Federal Beef Processors plant, was cancelled
Wednesday and fire officials were urging residents to
watch television and listen to the radio for alerts
about the situation.
Pennington County Emergency Management Director Park
Owens said Thursday that the ammonia was no longer a
concern. "The wall collapsed and did no damage to the
tank," Owens said. "Over the day, the tank's safety
valve vented and dissipated all contents to the
atmosphere according to the Rapid City Fire Department."
Owens said evacuation was not an option in this case.
"There was never any evacuation planned as ammonia is
lighter than air and in-place sheltering is safer than
evacuation," he said. "Although the state offered help
in anything we needed, we did not anticipate the need to
request their assistance."
Local disaster response volunteers worry because many of
the people who lost their jobs had little education and
would have a tough time finding work in the area. Marc
Stewart, associate conference minister for the South
Dakota Conference of the United Church of Christ (UCC)
said he contacted the national disaster response office
for the UCC to let his organization know a large
response might be needed.
"This was a major employer for low income jobs, a lot of
work release from the county jail," he said. "It was
harsh working conditions; it's a place where people can
work hard and make some money."
The fire was hard to miss Wednesday as the plant is in
the downtown area of Rapid City. "The smoke cloud was
harboring over much of the town for the morning,"
More than 50 firefighters fought the blaze from outside
the building as fire officials determined it was not
safe to mount an internal attack. The cause of the fire
has not been determined.
Because the extent of damage from the fire -- including
unemployment -- has not been assessed yet, Stewart said
no local volunteer effort has been scheduled to help
those who lost their jobs. But, he added, there would
likely be some campaign to help. "South Dakota people
help each other when there's a need."
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