Concerned citizen’s call brings quick fire response to Chappell Central

WILLMAR -- A 911 call from a cleaning crew supervisor who discovered a smoke-filled room earlier this fall at Chappell Central in Willmar's Industrial Park possibly saved the entire building.The supervisor was honored Tuesday for her quick action...

Anna Stiles
Willmar Fire Chief Frank Hanson, left, presents Anna Stiles, crew supervisor at West Central Industries in Willmar, with an Outstanding Citizens Award Tuesday afternoon. Stiles called in a fire at Chappell Central in September after she and her cleaning crew arrived at the smoke-filled business. She was also recognized by Chappell Central and the Willmar Police Department. (SHELBY LINDRUD | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR - A 911 call from a cleaning crew supervisor who discovered a smoke-filled room earlier this fall at Chappell Central in Willmar’s Industrial Park possibly saved the entire building.
The supervisor was honored Tuesday for her quick action in removing her crew from the building and calling 911.
Anna Stiles, a crew supervisor for West Central Industries in Willmar, and her team arrived Sept. 14 for their weekly cleaning at Chappell Central’s custom fabrication department on Trott Avenue Southwest. The plan was to clean the building and move on to their next stop. Plans changed when Stiles opened the door.
“There was a wall of smoke,” Stiles said. The smoke was not thick or black, but it filled the room.
Stiles backed her team away from the building and called 911.
The phone call to 911 might have saved the entire building.
Craig Meyer, president of Chappell Central, said the fire had to have started sometime after the last employee left around 6 p.m. that day. He said it was lucky someone was even around to catch the fire, as WCI cleans only once a week at Chappell.
“We were extremely fortunate,” Meyer said.
Cameras in the building started to see smoke around 6:15 p.m. The 911 call time from Stiles was recorded as 7:56 p.m.
Meyer said he was told by the Fire Department this kind of fire would not have gone out on its own.
“It was going to get bad,” Meyer said. “It may have been a matter of minutes.”
Instead Meyer said only the dust collector had to be replaced.
According to Willmar Fire Chief Frank Hanson, a smoldering fire had started in the laser cutter’s dust collection and ventilation system. The fire was mostly a smoke producer, with little flame, but it took firefighters a fair amount of time to locate the fire.
In addition to the Willmar Fire Department, departments from Pennock, Spicer and Kandiyohi provided mutual aid assistance, due to the industrial nature of the event. The Willmar Ambulance and Kandiyohi County Rescue Squad were also on hand.
The cause of the fire was never determined.
Stiles’ quick action might have prevented the fire from turning into something more damaging, and she received an Outstanding Citizen Award Tuesday afternoon at the offices of West Central Industries.
“The honor is really unnecessary,” said Stiles, who believes all she did was call the police when she thought something wasn’t right. “There was no heroism.”
Stiles was fairly new on the job at the time of the fire.
“I didn’t know it was an emergency,” she said, but she knew something was wrong.
Hanson and Meyer were on hand Tuesday to give Stiles her award, along with Willmar Police Sgt. Chad Nelson and West Central Industries board member Doug Reese.
Nelson gave Stiles a Citizen Recognition Coin from the Police Department and Meyer handed her a small gift and a Chappell Central sweatshirt - appropriately colored fire engine red.
“It was her quick call to action,” said Renee Nolting, executive director of WCI. “She did the right thing, she saved the day.”
“It is citizens like Anna who make our community a safer place to work and play,” said Hanson, reading Stiles’ award plaque during the ceremony.
While Stiles might not believe her actions were worthy of recognition, she does hope her story will urge other people not to hesitate to call for assistance, even if they are not sure it is an emergency.
The Willmar Police Department has a non-emergency number for people to call if they are not sure an event warrants calling 911. The number is 320- 235-2244.
“It might be a good idea to have this number in your cell phone,” Stiles said. “We’ve got a good police force. It is nice to know we can talk to them.”


Photos: Where there’s smoke... there may be a fire

Fire in dust collector causes smoke at Chappell Central in Willmar


Anna Stiles
Fire fighters and others respond Sept. 14 to smoke at Chappell Central Inc. on the corner of State Highway 40 and Trott Avenue Southwest in Willmar. No one was working at the heating, ventilation and cooling business’ building when a cleaning crew arrived and opened a door, according to first responders at the scene. Anna Stiles, a crew supervisor for West Central Industries who was first on the scene and called 911, was honored Tuesday. (GARY MILLER | TRIBUNE)

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