Mike Brady had put together a plan to keep FedEx Express up and running during the Waldo Canyon fire in June 2012 if the company was forced to evacuate its freight terminal in northwest Colorado Springs, but he didn't think it would be needed until he saw flames jumping over the ridge a few miles away.
Two hours after those flames leapt over the ridge into Queen's Canyon, Brady, who manages the terminal and Craig Masumiya, who manages the company's operations at the Colorado Springs Airport, were evacuated and moved to the company's hangar at the airport. Brady was forced to leave behind 19 delivery trucks, 13 employee vehicles, hundreds of customer packages and much of the equipment the terminal's 85 employees needed to sort the thousands of packages that arrive daily at the terminal.
"Smoke was enveloping the station, and it was so thick that you couldn't see more than 20 feet, even inside the building. I activated our contingency plan, which was to meet in the parking lot of University Village (shopping center) to regroup and move everything we could take with us to the airport ramp," Brady said. "I told people to take any package out of the building that they could and we were able to get a 28-foot truck here by coming the wrong way up Centennial Boulevard that we loaded up with about 95 percent of the outbound packages we had here."
Masumiya said the evacuation was like a war zone.
"You could see trees going poof and exploding into flames every minute or so. I had never seen anything like it," he said.
Brady and Masumiya were able to get a makeshift package sorting and delivery system set up outside the hangar that allowed FedEx to continue take in and send out packages during its four-day evacuation from the terminal. The company later received approval from Mayor Steve Bach to go back to the terminal during the evacuation to retrieve the packages, vehicles and equipment needed for the process. For their roles in keeping the terminal operating, Brady and Masumiya will be among 24 FedEx employees receiving national customer-service awards from the company Thursday.
Brady began developing the contingency plan a day before the fire burned into the city, killing two people and destroying nearly 350 homes in the nearby Mountain Shadows neighborhood, including a home owned by one of the terminal's employees. During the fire, that employee and more than a dozen employees who were evacuated from the their homes continued working to keep the terminal operating with the help of more than 100 reinforcements sent to Colorado Springs from virtually every FedEx unit, including its data center and software operation in the Northgate area.
"We were told at 5 p.m. to evacuate, and by 7 p.m. we had everyone safe and accounted for. Shortly after that, I was on a worldwide conference call to assess the situation and what we needed to put the full weight of FedEx behind us to make sure freight was where it needed to be," Brady said. "We knew that we would have a problem by the next morning because we had thousands of packages arriving early the next morning with no place to put them. We were able to resume a very limited operation that day since we were missing a lot of equipment."
The giant daily package sorting operation that normally takes an hour to finish at the terminal took five hours to complete at the airport, prompting Brady to spend much of the day trying to reach anyone with the city of Colorado Springs to get access to the evacuated terminal, even if only for a few minutes. By late afternoon, Brady got permission to spend 15 minutes gathering whatever he and his employees could get while under police escort and drive out beyond the edge of the evacuation zone nearly a mile away.
"Getting back into the building was critical because we had perishables, medicine and payroll that we needed to get out, as well as the equipment we needed to process freight," Brady said. "We had 27 people crammed into three vehicles because we needed to be able to drive the delivery trucks out of the evacuation zone. Each person was assigned to get certain things. When we got there, it was a surreal scene. We found a burnt newspaper near our gas pump - who knows how much worse the fire would have been had the pump had caught fire."
Late in the fourth day, the evacuation had been lifted and Brady was able to get he and his employees back into the terminal about 30 minutes before residents of the surrounding neighborhood were allowed to go back to their homes, avoiding traffic delays that would have slowed the transfer of operations back to the terminal. FedEx employees spent much of the next several weeks cleaning up smoke damage by replacing the ceiling in the office area, painting the walls throughout the building and washing soot off most other surfaces, Brady said.
The terminal's 84 other employees deserve most of the credit for keeping the operation going, maintaining a "can-do spirit" to find a way to overcome each obstacle the fire and evacuation put before them, including one driver in Teller County who couldn't get to work but volunteered to deliver packages brought to him through a long detour, Brady said. Many put in extra time to call customers who had been evacuated to set up alternative delivery arrangements even as they were evacuated from their homes or had their own vehicles trapped at the terminal for several days.
"It would have been easy not to come in, but people still came to work and showed incredible teamwork," Brady said.
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
Facebook Wayne Heilman