Lessons from a factory fire

On 5 July 2022, a fire broke out in Swix’s factory in Lillehammer, Norway. The fire started in a boiler that supplies the factory with hot oil to produce ski wax and glider. Production was interrupted and the warehouse was at risk of burning down.

Before the fire, there had been a fault in a relay, which meant that the system was not getting any heat. The production of glider and other products must have this heating system. Therefore, the relay was rewired, pending the delivery of a new one”, explains Fredrik Skaug Jensen, Senior Claims Advisor at If. “However, there was an unknown fault in another relay, which caused the heating elements to stay on too long. This led to the melting of the heating element, which in turn ignited the oil in the heating system.”

Reacting to the fire

Torbjørn Haugen, Operation Manager at Brav Norway AS, which owns the Swix brand, was working from home on the day of the incident.

“First, I thought this was a false alarm. I always get a call from the alarm centre when the alarm has gone off and if I am not on the location when this happens, I tell them to go there, to be safe. This decision turned out to be vital in this case. As soon as I realised the alarm was real, I made the two-hour drive from my home to the factory. Meanwhile, my colleagues on-site were doing everything they could, just as we had practiced. They went to the central panel to locate the area of the fire, they detected the reason of the fire, and then provided firefighters with needed information upon their arrival, making it possible for them to extinguish the fire swiftly”, Haugen says.

“In the hours following, we focused on minimising the impact of the fire, for example by keeping the factory gates open. This required security staff to watch the gates during the night. We saved as much equipment and material as possible, carrying these out of harm’s way. To get an overview of the magnitude of the loss, If Insurance sent a Loss Adjuster who was given the mandate to take decisions and act quickly. This was a huge advantage, allowing us to be able to move forward with vital steps in the rebuilding phase. Our focus was also to provide the necessary support to our colleagues who were emotionally impacted by this fire event.”

The loss

A fortunate twist came with the timing of the fire, occurring in the month of July, as the factory was about to be shut down only a few days later for the summer holidays. Therefore, despite the damage, no downtime occurred in production. During the summer holidays, a provisional heating system was installed.

After the fire was extinguished, there was significant smoke and soot damage on the premises. Although some smoke had entered the warehouse, causing damage to goods, the fire did not spread further. This was also very fortunate, as high-value goods were stored in the warehouse.

Lessons learned

1. Select a safe location for critical equipment

When the incident happened, the boiler was in the middle of the building on the 2nd floor, making it difficult for firefighters to extinguish the fire. This central location also increased the possibility of additional losses as materials and equipment were stored close to the boiler.

“Since the incident, we have invested in moving this heating plant to the ground floor with easy access for fire services”, Torbjørn Haugen emphasizes. “It is now placed in an actual fire cell, which was done in close cooperation with the fire department. If a similar incident occurs, the fire department can quickly locate the boiler and fill the entire room with foam and extinguish the fire immediately.”

2. Business continuity training pays off

After the incident, the fire department confirmed that the employees on site had done a tremendous job when the fire started.

“Without their prior training and preparation, the factory could have been lost completely. It has been a huge learning for us that having a business continuity plan and conducting training on a regular basis really pays off”, Torbjørn Haugen says.

3. Coordinate your first point of contact

Knowing who to contact from your insurance company should be part of the business continuity plan. The plan should be updated on a regular basis, for example if there are any changes in the organisation and a new contact should be listed instead.

According to Torbjørn Haugen, it took some hours before the company reached the right person at If. “We were frustrated, as we needed support immediately and were in a critical situation. However, once we got hold of the right person, we were very satisfied with the support and guidance we received from If. A learning from this experience is that we have to have this dialogue with our insurance provider in advance and know who to call in case an incident occurs.”

Written by

Caroline Bødkerholm, If