DVL Seigenthaler is honored to provide public relations support for our client, Jack Daniel’s, and proud to share this USA Today story featuring the Fire Brigade that’s responsible for protecting the world’s supply of their Tennessee Whiskey: [How Jack Daniel’s and 34 volunteer firefighters protect the world’s supply of its whiskey
View the story on USA Today, or read below:
How Jack Daniel’s and 34 volunteer firefighters protect the world’s supply of its whiskey
LYNCHBURG, Tenn. – Fire prevention has been top of mind for Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett after a blaze at a Jim Beam warehouse destroyed 45,000 bourbon barrels and littered a nearby river with fish killed by the resulting alcohol runoff.
Destructive fires, explosions and warehouse collapses threaten large distilleries across the country, where highly flammable hard liquor is aged and stored in massive quantities before it’s bottled and shipped around the world.
The Jim Beam fire, just one of a handful of distillery disasters in Kentucky in recent decades, has left the entire U.S. spirits industry on edge.
“Every drop (of Jack Daniel’s) is made here,” Arnett said. “We wouldn’t have an opportunity to source product from another place. So literally, if this place burned down, it would be kind of done. That’s a lot to risk.”
Brown-Forman-owned Jack Daniel’s has more than 2 million barrels of whiskey at stake. The 153-year-old distillery with a storied history in Tennessee has 90 warehouses that store aging whiskey on close to 3,000 acres in rural Lynchburg and surrounding communities. A fire at a single Jack Daniel’s warehouse could destroy as many as 67,000 barrels of whiskey.
And the threat of fire at Jack Daniel’s is high, from dust explosion and vapor hazards to the very process of making Tennessee whiskey, which requires bourbon to be filtered through maple charcoal and aged in new, charred oak barrels.
Regular training, custom equipment, and the largest foam supply east of the Mississippi
To protect its valuable spirits, Jack Daniel’s has poured money into a sophisticated fire prevention strategy that includes a team of 34 state-certified firefighters. Members of the Jack Daniel’s Volunteer Fire Brigade work full time at Jack Daniel’s in jobs ranging from engineer to tour guide, and they volunteer to keep the property, people and whiskey safe.
“I think the world is counting on us. We’re counting on ourselves,” Arnett said.
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Jack Daniel’s hasn’t had a devastating fire at its distillery. A fire burned a building in 1930 during Prohibition when the property wasn’t being used to make whiskey. When the distillery reopened in 1938, Jack Daniel’s invested a little in fire prevention, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the company really ramped up its protection, said Jason Morgan, a Jack Daniel’s tour guide and member of the fire brigade.
Today, the firefighters train on-site once a week for two hours in everything from CPR, AED use, fire response and hazmat incidents. They have a mutual aid agreement with the volunteer Metro Moore County Fire Rescue to respond to fires in the community’s town square, nursing homes and schools.
Jack Daniel’s has put more than $4 million into fire equipment, including custom-built fire trucks, hoses, foam cannons, protective gear, thermal cameras and a $400,000 training facility where the firefighters can put out live and simulated whiskey fires.
Jack Daniel’s houses the largest foam supply east of the Mississippi River to more efficiently battle potential liquor fires, Arnett said.
“We wanted to make sure we’ve done our very best to train beyond what the state can provide to have this fire tower on our own property,” Arnett said. “We can put alcohol out there and let our own employees see how it would look if (a fire) were to happen and the special ways to address that.”
About a decade ago, the company started building all its new warehouses about 400 feet apart to reduce the risk of a fire spreading from one building to another. If one of those warehouses were to collapse, a basin beneath the structure could contain all the whiskey stored in the building, Arnett said.
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“The tragedy of Beam doesn’t end at the fact they lost 45,000 barrels. All that stuff ran off into the rivers, too, and they have a massive fish kill,” Arnett said. “My kids would swim in that creek that’s downstream of (Jack Daniel’s) for years. You always want to be able to look your neighbors in the eye and know you’re a good citizen.”
Indeed, the bourbon runoff from the Jim Beam fire is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of fish and affected more than 60 miles of the Kentucky River, although a more precise count of dead fish likely won’t be available until later this month, said David Baker, a spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
“How the process works is, you have what is called a slug of bad water, and as that slug of bad water moves downstream, it affects the aquatic life in that slug. I’m told with the Kentucky River, the dissolved oxygen levels got so bad the crawdads were crawling out from the river and going up the bank because they couldn’t breathe,” Baker said.
Baker said the river’s dissolved oxygen levels have returned to normal and can support fish again.
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Jim Beam owner Beam Suntory has planned an exhaustive review of its warehouses to look for ways to reduce risks and minimize environmental damage if future fires occur, Beam Suntory President Albert Baladi told the Associated Press in July.
As for Jack Daniel’s, Arnett believes the company is prepared for many disastrous situations, although he hopes those never come to fruition.
“We don’t mind spending millions of dollars on equipment and having it sit there,” he said. “If we never have to put our employees at risk and just have them prepared and ready, I’m perfectly fine with that.”
Reach Lizzy Alfs at email@example.com or 615-726-5948 and on Twitter @lizzyalfs.