Why is fire protection in every kind of industry more critical now than ever? Let’s look at an example of what’s happening.

Canadian auto workers awoke to some terrific news in November. A threatened strike with the potential to idle 6,000 workers at a minivan assembly plant in Windsor, ON, had been averted by a last minute labor agreement.

The threatened strike was not at the car plant, but at another Windsor plant that makes car seats. No cars seats, no minivans. Unfortunately, the same week the strike was averted fire destroyed a warehouse at a plant in Polaski, TN, that makes lighting components for those same hot selling minivans.

Five to seven days of lighting stock that was waiting for shipment was lost. That means the workers at the Windsor car plant would still face a four-day layoff the following week. It would have been five days if not for Canada’s Rememberance Day holiday.

But wait, there’s more. A plant in Toledo, OH, that makes sports utility vehicles buys from the same Tennessee supplier. In this case, the plant will only be closed one day because, like in Windsor, the shutdown overlapped a paid holiday – Election Day.

Through October the minivan manufacturer compiled sales of 157,625 units for the year, almost a third more than its chief competitor. Even with the normally reliable Windsor plant churning out 1,500 minivans a day, dealerships now had less than a two-month supply to fall back on during the holidays.

A supply chain is a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a product. An optimized supply chain results in lower costs and a faster production cycle. Refinery or petrochemical plant fires are not the only fire risks to affect production. Of course, keeping that chain optimized leaves no room for having fires.

The entire idea behind supply chain management is to minimize the time that materials sit unused. Parts should transition through the warehouse, not take up permanent residence. Ideally, they should be delivered the moment space becomes available on the factory floor, not in the warehouse.

 With this philosophy driving the economy, no threat of fire should be tolerated. One chink in the supply chain hurts everyone along the entire stretch. But eliminating the threat of fire is not as easy as managing inventory to meet production quotas. For example, the manufacturer in Pulaski was already recovering from a fire that destroyed another warehouse only three months earlier.

According to economists, high debt, low productivity and a stagnant workforce are keeping the U.S. gross national product in check at only 1.6 percent growth annually. Scenarios such as the one above make it difficult for me to understand why improved fire protection is not as vital to improving the GNP as proposals about tax cuts and increased government spending.

An interdependent economy means that manufacturers not only have to worry about fires at their facilities, but at their suppliers’ as well. That is why I am so glad to report an increase in industrial fire training efforts that include community emergency responders. How can awareness of economic impact beyond your company help you justify training and equipment requests to plant management in the future?