TRAVERSE CITY — “Emergencies don’t follow a calendar.”
That adage from Traverse City Fire Chief Jim Tuller proved true on Labor Day when area fire crews had to extinguish a blaze at Century Sun Metal Treating.
The incident reinforced a well-known fact for emergency personnel and workers in many other businesses: even on Labor Day there’s no such thing as a guaranteed day off.
“We’re here to help people no matter what day it is,” Tuller said.
Weather doesn’t follow a calendar either -- at least not in Northwest lower Michigan.
Cool temperatures and cloudy skies plagued the unofficial last day of summer in Traverse City, but many residents like Mike Tonder and his sister Sara Tonder didn’t let that ruin their Labor Day.
“It’s actually kind of nice for it to be a little bit cooler,” Mike Tonder said.
Mike and Sara Tonder spent Monday afternoon walking their dog Maggie by Grand Traverse Bay. After the walk they planned to head home for an evening cook out.
The two said they had a lot of yard work to do, including staining their deck. It certainly wasn’t getting done on Labor Day, but the Tonders said they’d get to it before truly cold weather sets in.
“At least before it snows,” Sara Tonder said.
No sun, no problem
The Tonders joined countless other residents and tourists in downtown Traverse City to make the best of the Labor Day holiday. Throngs of people paraded up and down Front Street Monday afternoon, including Matt and Sarah Lawton, of Holly.
Matt and Sarah Lawton enjoyed a work-free day, but they were also in Traverse City for more than just a long weekend. The couple married on Friday and will be in the area all week celebrating their honeymoon.
The newlyweds were disappointed their visit preceded the explosion of autumn colors in the trees that’s still a few weeks out, but they hoped their honeymoon came late enough in the summer to see the Grand Traverse region in a way it hasn’t been seen in months.
“Hopefully without all the tourists,” Sarah Lawton said.
Many Front Street business staffers were on duty for one of the last big shopping days of the summer before all those tourists head out of town for the winter.
One business, Critters Clothing and Souvenirs, attracted shoppers with a store-wide buy one, get one half-price sale.
Store employee Marcela Anderson said the deal appeared to be working. Critters had more customers than anyone at the business expected.
Still Anderson said she didn’t mind working Labor Day. She said she could use the extra money, and there was an additional perk to the end-of-summer shift.
“We close today at 6 (pm) for the first day this summer,” Anderson said. “Usually we’re open until 10 (pm).”
Labor Day toilers
Firefighter Keith Fritz also found himself at work on Labor Day.
Fritz was leaving Menards when he got called to the Century Sun fire along with roughly a dozen other Traverse City firefighters who were not scheduled to work.
“I made a phone call to my wife and told her ‘you’re not going to hear from me for a while,’” Fritz said.
Crews from Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department and Peninsula Township Fire Department also responded.
The fire started at Century Sun’s Aero Park Court commercial location around midday while several employees were working at the industrial business that heat treats steel 24-hours a day. The fire appeared to originate from a tempering oven, though an exact cause is still under investigation, Tuller said.
No one was hurt by the fire, which was contained to one room and caused minimal structure damage. Century Sun employees were able to continue work in other parts of the commercial site.
But the fire was somewhat unusual because of to the presence of hazardous materials used during the heat treating process, prompting Environmental Protection Agency officials to arrive on scene and monitor for possible chemical discharges.
Jim Black, vice president and general manager of Century Sun, was glad not all emergency personnel got to take Labor Day off.
“I’m glad they’re here,” said Black, who also credited his employees with responded well to the emergency. “You take that for granted until you need them.”
For Fritz and his colleagues, though, there’s nothing unusual about working holidays. Emergencies don’t follow a calendar, after all.
“Everybody that does this job knows that this is part of it,” Traverse City Fire Capt. Mike Onthank said.