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Chile Mine Rescuer Gets Back to Business



He was at the center of the biggest news story of the year. Small business owner Brandon Fisher built and operated the drill that bored the hole through which the 33 Chilean miners were rescued.

Now back home in their home town of Berlin, Pa., Fisher and his wife, Julie, are back to work at Center Rock, Inc., the 75-employee company they own together. The pair tells us what it was like to be involved in such an historic event and how they’re getting back to business as usual – well, sort of.

BusinessNewsDaily: When did you first decide that you could help the miners?

Julie Fisher: Brandon and I were listening to the news when they announced they were alive and that it would take until Christmas to get them out.  He immediately said, "I think we can help get them out quicker, we need to make some phone calls."

When I found out that "we" meant "he," I supported him the entire way.  He’s the best in our business that I know along with [Center Rock employee] Richard Soppe.  To me, there was no other choice.  He had to go.

BND: What did you think when he told you?

J.F.: I just remember that the two of us worked day and night to make it happen.  We both knew in our hearts that we wanted to help and try to make a difference for those men and their families.

BND: Who does one call when they decide they might be able to help in such a situation?

Brandon Fisher: We belong to the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Council, which is a Pennsylvania agency that helps Pennsylvania manufacturers develop international trade.  We have a trade rep in Chile and he was able to help us get names and phone numbers to get the ball rolling.

BND: Did you actually think they would accept your offer of help?

B.F.: We didn’t know.  We have a partner in Chile as well, called Drillers Supply SA.  They were working on the rescue site and played a large role in selling our plan to the mining officials.

BND: What kind of sacrifices did your business have to make in your absence?

J.F.: Brandon and Richard Soppe are two key employees here at Center Rock.  Having them gone was very difficult for all of those left to run the business.  Thanks to today’s wonderful technology, however, we were able to “take care of business” so to speak, with a huge Verizon bill ($15,000).

BND: Who paid for all the work you did in Chile?

J.F.: We billed everything through Drillers Supply SA, who are our distributor down in Chile, and yes, they got paid by the Chilean government, and in turn have paid for most of the billings.

BND: Did your participation in the rescue put a strain on your business?

J.F.: No, we don’t think so.  The team at Center Rock all put their whole hearts into this rescue mission.  All of the employees were behind our involvement and in sending Brandon and Richard over to Chile to help with the rescue.  Many employees stepped up and went above and beyond working long hours and some weekends to make sure Center Rock remained strong.  I think it made us even stronger as a team.

BND: Did you think yours would be the first drill to reach the miners or where you thinking there was just as good a chance that one of the other drills would? [There were three teams working simultaneously to reach the miners, each using a different technique.]

B.F.: When we presented our plan to the mining officials, we provided them with a time estimate from start to finish.  We knew going in that our technology should be faster than the technology that was being used for Plan A.  Plan C didn’t come about until after we had arrived in Chile.  We felt confident that we could do what we promised and in the time frame we presented and thankfully both came true.

BND: Did your group socialize with the other drillers at all? How was the mood between drilling teams?

B.F.: Absolutely.  Plans A, B and C members would stop by each other’s areas and get updates on how the drilling was going.  Everyone was there for one goal, to get the miners out.  When we broke through with the 26-inch LP drill, we could see and hear the clapping and cheering and horns blowing from both the Plan A and Plan C teams supporting what Plan B had accomplished.

BND: Why did you leave the rescue scene before the miners came out?

B.F.: Once we drilled the hole, we needed to get out of the way for the next set of rescue workers to do their job.  There wasn’t a lot of area for them to be working in and they didn’t need people to be in their way.  We left out of respect for that next set of rescue workers so that they could do their job.  And of course we missed our families too.

BND: How long was Brandon gone?

J.F.: I dropped him off at the airport on Sept. 3 and we came home on Oct. 12.

BND: Do you two have kids? How was it for them?

J.F.: I have two daughters, 22 and 19, both in college.  Brandon has three children — a daughter, 13, and two sons, one 11 and one 7.  They were able to stay with their mother while he was away.  All of the children were behind this rescue mission.  Brandon was involved in the Quecreek 9 for 9 [in which 9 miners were trapped in a Pennsylvania mine for 77 hours] rescue that happened here close to their home town so they are very away of how important this type of work is.  They would call or e-mail on a regular basis for updates and send notes of love and support.

BND: Did you watch the rescue on TV?

J.F.: Absolutely!  When that first man came out and his little boy ran to him with tears in his eyes, there wasn’t a dry eye in our house.  We stayed up most of the night and then watched it until the last rescue worker was out.  It was very emotional and with each one we had smiles and tears of happiness.

BND: How difficult has it been to get back to normal and juggle the day-to-day demands of your business with the PR demands after the rescue?

B.F.: It has most definitely been challenging but rewarding as well.  We are very appreciative in all that have taken an interest in our story.

BND: Has your company seen an increase in business since the rescue or as a result of the rescue?

J.F.: I am sure it will take time to be able to measure those kinds of results. We have seen an increase in phone calls, e-mails, etc., from people and places we have never dealt with before inquiring about our products and services.  We didn’t do this rescue as some kind of a marketing scheme.  We have been involved in mine rescue in the past, living in mining country, and have a very special place in our hearts for miners and we are thankful to God that this all turned out with a happy ending.

BND: How difficult was it to run the business without him?

J.F.: It was difficult for the team, I think, at times.  But we have a great team here and I can’t say enough about how much they put into working hard and going the extra mile so that Brandon and Richard could drill the most important hole they have every drilled in their lives.

BND: Did you visit at all while he was there?

J.F.: I went down on Sept. 24 and came home with him on Oct. 12.

BND: What has been the biggest challenge since the rescue has ended?

J.F.: Not having any time to just get away as husband and wife for a few days. But we are still hoping for the week after Christmas, hopefully.

Jeanette Mulvey

Jeanette has been writing about business for more than 20 years. She has written about every kind of entrepreneur from hardware store owners to fashion designers. Previously she was a manager of internal communications for Home Depot. Her journalism career began in local newspapers. She has a degree in American Studies from Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter @jeanettebnd.