Frazee trucking company owners plan to rebuild after devastating fire
Frazee-Dave Coufal of Frazee stands in front of the heaps of burned, twisted metal that just hours earlier stood as proof of hard work and determination. The trucking business he built with his father from the ground up is now scattered around that ground in blackened misery and ash, thanks to a fire that tore through the shop Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s just hard to see something you’ve worked your whole life for look like this,” he said, his raw emotion catching in his words.
B&D Transport wasn’t just a trucking company to Coufal - it was a labor of love that he and his father, Bruce Coufal, worked hard to build. Although incorporated in 2000, the 60-by-120-foot building was just built in 2009 along Highway 87 just east of Frazee. It was a huge investment for the Coufals - one they spent years preparing for and then continued paying for with long hours and work weeks that for quite a while never ended.
“We worked seven days a week for a long time, getting things all built up so that we could build a building and have everything at one location,” said Coufal. “Six years into the building, we were finally starting to breathe a little sigh of relief. We just started working five days a week again.”
That sigh of relief was quickly sucked back in when Coufal was on his way to the shop Tuesday, in between Detroit Lakes and Frazee.
“I saw the smoke, and I just knew,” he said. “Then my cell phone started ringing. I saw it was my secretary, but she was calling from her cell phone. My heart just dropped.”
The sad irony is Coufal is the fire chief for the Lake Park volunteer fire department, and he was the first on the scene to his own emergency.
Like many trucking businesses, B&D Transport utilized used oil in an oil boiler to heat its shop. Although typically considered a common, safe way to heat a facility, there are “freak” incidents that can occur.
“A mechanic in the shop was putting some oil into the used oil furnace holding tank, and static electricity sparked fumes, and it was all over,” said Coufal. “At first it was just a flash, and he turned around and grabbed for the fire extinguisher, but the fire got into the fumes inside the tank and the tank bleved.”
Coufal says an explosion caused oil projectile and the fire quickly spread. The mechanic in the shop sustained only minor injuries, and the three other employees in the office at the time escaped unharmed.
“We are very, very lucky that he (the mechanic) wasn’t really hurt; it could have been bad,” said Coufal, who, upon arrival, got on his handheld fire department radio and notified Becker County of what was going on. Although he arrived in the early stages of the fire, Coufal also knew that if the fire reached the rafters, there would be no stopping it.
Eight area fire departments with roughly 50 firefighters showed up to help, including Coufal’s Lake Park crew.
“There were six fire chiefs there from Becker and Otter Tail counties, and they’re not treating me as a property owner, they were treating me as a fire chief, and we were all trying to fight it together even though I’m completely a mess,” said Coufal, who says he helped contain things from the outside, knowing where propane and oil were sitting on the property.
Inside the building, fire was ravaging three semi trucks, a skid steer, a forklift, a lot of tires and a lot of oil.
According to Frazee Fire Chief Regi Ueke, the contents all made for an extremely hot burn. It made it difficult for crews to get to the fire, so Ueke says they called local plumber Lloyd Feldt.
“He brought his backhoe and knocked it out and opened it up so that we could get at it to spray water and foam on it,” said Uke. “He really saved the day with that.”
To the firefighters’ surprise, the crews were able to save the office attached to the building, although it, too, sustained heavy smoke and heat damage.
Coufal says although they are insured, the inventory within the shop changes on a daily basis, so there were “a lot of things in there that weren’t insured.”
Keep on truckin’
Fire may be a devastating roadblock for B&D Transport, but the Coufals are finding out that there are a lot of people in their communities willing to help them plow through it. It isn’t just family and friends, either.
“Daggett Truck Line graciously let us in their Skyline building right there next to their truckline, and now today Tom (Watson) and the crew over at Lakes Transportation in Detroit Lakes offered up a couple of computers, so my dispatchers are actually there in DL right now keeping our trucks that are on the road rolling,” said Coufal, who, when asked if these are technically his competitors, had to choke back his emotion.
“Yep. They are,” he said, shaking his head.
Coufal says he’s so appreciative of the help to keep his business rolling because not only does he want his customers to stay satisfied, but it means the 16 employees depending on them can keep working.
Despite the heartbreak, Coufal says they have a lot of reason to be thankful, too.
“Thankfully everybody got out - first and foremost - and second, just all the volunteers and the fire departments and EMS and Frazee Rescue and the Sheriff. Me being on the opposite side of the flames was pretty tough,” he said, “but they all worked together and just did such a great job.”
Coufal says they will rebuild again, and when they do, he hopes that their shop will be even better than before.
“I’m hoping that we’re back in here by mid to late summer. I hope we’re back rocking and rolling in here.”