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'What's next for them?': Metal finishing plant employees kept on payroll after March fire

The March 27th fire at Valence Surface Technologies in Eastman ripped through one of the two buildings at the facility.

EASTMAN, Ga. — After a devastating fire that ripped through an Eastman metal finishing plant in March, the company is keeping the plant's workers employed.

March 27 around 4 p.m., one of the buildings at Valence Surface Technologies caught fire and burned into the night. Nobody was hurt. The first thing that went through General Manager Justin Fordham's head was his team.

"The employees," he said. "What's next for them?"

Eastman Fire Chief Scotty Whitten says in his 32 years as a firefighter, he's never seen anything like it.

"This was the first time that I encountered a manufacturing plant fire. We learned a lot," Whitten said.

They got it under control, but needed some outside support.

"It was what we call a great stop," he said. "Working together we were able to do that."

The building is still standing, but Fordham says it's not usable. It's affected how many people can work on site.

"We are currently deploying our employees to our sister facilities throughout the United States. Letting them work there. As well as we are also deploying some of our teams here to help us with some of the cleanup and overhaul," Fordham said.

He says while some are sent away, there's a silver lining.

"Our employees knowing that they will get a paycheck, a 40-hour paycheck, regardless of status of work," he said.

Fordham said they still haven't started cleaning up the wreckage because the state fire marshal is still investigating. He says there's still no word on the cause of the fire, but that no chemicals burned, and that there's no danger to the public.

Chief Whitten wouldn't say what he thought may have started the fire. The state fire marshal did not reply to a request for more information about the cause.

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