Displaced companies recovering from borough fire

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Nearly four months after the largest fire the borough has seen in years, 550 Spring St., the industrial building that held five tenants including Yofarm, is being demolished and the companies are trying to pick up the pieces. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Ralph Minervino had to shout last week over the thumps and thuds of crews removing asbestos from the shell of his burned-out industrial building.

“It’s time-consuming, because I have to deal with all this and run the business,” Minervino said.

Demolition began last Monday on 26,000 square feet of office space at 550 Spring St. The building burned Oct. 8 in a spectacular overnight fire, the worst the borough has seen in recent years. Fire marshals believe the cause was accidental but shelved the investigation because concrete and steel from a collapsed section of roof buried possible points of ignition.

The fire consumed office space for yogurt company Yofarm, waste management company Synagro and hardware distributor Fascomp, but firefighters stopped the flames before they spread into space for Multi-Metal Manufacturing, the screw machine company co-owned by Minervino and Patrick Guarino. Storage and packaging areas for Yofarm were also spared.

The insurance claims are still being settled, but Minervino placed the fire damage at several million dollars. The Hanover Insurance Group is covering everything except for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent Minervino and Guarino will lose from the destroyed office space they leased out.

Minervino said he would decide in a few months whether he wants to build an addition to replace the ruined rooms.

“This is not the greatest market in terms of tenants,” Minervino said.

Yofarm moved its offices to 41 Sheridan Drive in the industrial park, where the company signed a three-year lease, said Alfred Lechner, vice president of operations. If Minervino rebuilds, Yofarm’s offices might return to their former location due to its convenience and proximity to the plant, Lechner said.

“We are continuing to grow, and there are needs on our side, down the road, for the warehouse and maybe for the office,” Lechner said.

Synagro moved its offices to Watertown and does not plan to return to the borough, according to Mark McCormick, vice president of facilities.

“We do miss the convenience of the former Naugatuck location, but we are doing very well in our new building,” McCormick said.

Fascomp only employs two people, who are now working out of one of Minervino’s warehouses.

Minervino’s company began producing again incrementally after the fire, as soot was cleaned from machines. The company was fully operational in a month, Minervino said. Ceiling tiles and sections of wall had to be replaced where smoke and water seeped in. The cafeteria and the men’s locker room, which were closest to the fire, sill have to be completely replaced because the drywall was damaged, Minervino said.

After the fire, finance and information technology employees from Yofarm, the company that makes YoCrunch yogurt, organized equipment over the weekend in two temporary trailers outside the company’s plant down the road at 162 Spring St., Lechner said. Most of the company’s necessary files are stored electronically, and the server is in Long Island, so they were not damaged, Lechner said. The company continues to store materials and package toppings at the burned Spring Street building on the Waterbury line.

“It’s simply amazing how, on a Saturday morning, you’re standing in front of a totally destroyed office building, and by Monday you’re in full operation again,” Lechner said. “Our customers, at the end of the day, didn’t get impacted. This was really an extraordinary accomplishment, from my point of view.”

The yogurt company sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage, which insurance should pay for, spokeswoman Barbara DeBisschop said.

Synagro lost documents and personal property in the fire, according to McCormick, who described the amount only as a “significant loss.” The company is self-insured, according to McCormick.

Five local fire departments helped borough firefighters douse the blaze, provide lighting and man the stations. Workers from Yofarm and Multi-Metal Manufacturing were working an overnight shift in the manufacturing area that did not catch fire, and they all escaped unharmed, Lechner said.

One of many spectators posted a video of the fire on YouTube, which led Minervino to field calls the following week from his customers all over the country. Minervino had to reassure them the company was still in business.

Minervino, who also co-owns the building, raced over at about 2 a.m. when he heard about the fire and arrived to see the office space burning.

“Every one of those windows had flames in it,” he said. “It could’ve been a lot worse.”