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Fire at For Bare Feet, UPDATED: 6:30 p.m.
Updated on: 09.10.11

HELMSBURG -- Multiple fire departments are on scene at For Bare Feet in Helmsburg. They are responding to a fire that was called in around 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.

The Democrat's Sara Clifford is on scene, and reports that the roof is on fire and heavy black smoke is visible.

A crowd of onlookers has begun to assemble at the scene.

Responders from several Brown County departments and Bargersville are responding to the fire at For Bare Feet in Helmsburg.

2:35 p.m. Clifford reports that fire alarms continue to sound inside the burning building. She says responders are cutting through a loading dock door and that the roof continues to erode.

Several local departments, including Nashville, Jackson, Fruitdale, Cordry Sweetwater, Morgantown and Nineveh are working to control the fire.

2:57 p.m. Bargersville's ladder truck has arrived at the scene and is spraying water into the center of the affected building.

3:20 p.m. The fire appears to be contained, Clifford reports.

The middle of the approximately 10,000-square foot machine room has collapsed, she said. This is where the fire was burning through the roof. The shipping and warehousing areas are not on fire, and neither is the attached corporate office building.

Jackson Township firefighter Jeff McCabe said the fire appears to have started at an air compressor near the back of the building. The fire spread to the roof from there and throughout the machine area, which contains fabric and thread and other flammable materials, he explained. The machine building is constructed of wooden posts and metal siding, much like a pole barn.

There were employees on duty when Jackson Fire Chief Glenn Elmore arrived, but they were outside of the building.

Firefighters from Jackson and other departments have a plan for how to operate in case of fire, McCabe said. For Bare Feet is the largest manufacturing facility in Brown County, and is located less than a mile from the Jackson Township fire station. 

Don Knapp was just showing his grandchildren the new building portion under construction at For Bare Feet when he spotted the flames.

Knapp lives next door.  He, with the two youngsters in tow, had driven his golf cart up to the site near the upper lot there.

“I saw flames coming out of the roof,” he said. “I hollered at my neighbor, and he called it in.”

Nancy Ferguson got there a little later.

As she stood watching the smoke billow and firefighters work, Ferguson explained how she and her husband Sam, the superintendent of that building project, were sitting at home in Monroe County when they got a call from a friend in Nashville about the fire.

They came right over.

The construction project, to add more warehousing space, is being headed up by Builders Associates.

3:52 p.m. Alan Zellmer stood outside by his truck, a coffee thermos in hand, as he watched the fire. He's worked maintenance at For Bare Feet for 13 years. He's also married to Mandy Zellmer, For Bare Feet's president of operations and daughter of company founder Sharon Rivenbark.

"We just got this new building started, and then something like this happens," he said quietly.

The new portion is a 14,000-square foot addition attached to one of the shipping warehouses and the machine building.

Because of the fire, it may have to become the new knitting room, Sam Ferguson said.

Most of the knitting equipment, though, they explained, was in the machine building that's burning.

According to Zellmer, all parts of the interconnected buildings have drywall fire barriers rated to at least one hour. The new addition was being built with a three-hour fire rated concrete block.

Ferguson's crew had just finished laying the last of that block yesterday.

4:20 p.m. Jason Ramey with Bargersville reports that about 100 firefighters from Johnson, Morgan and Brown counties are working on site, says Clifford.

According to Ramey, no one has been injured. Shortly after he arrived, there was a mayday put out for a firefighting team in distress, but they had just not reported back to their departments. They were OK.

Ramey also confirmed that the roof on the machine building has collapsed and says that all contents there appear to be destroyed. He had not spoken to any employees to determine the exact cause, but Brown County fire officials will be investigating, he said.

4:30 p.m. Below are some photos from the scene, by Sara Clifford.

6:25 p.m. Company founder Sharon Rivenbark stood outside her company's corporate headquarters building, on the opposite side from where more than a dozen fire trucks had gathered. She was surrounded by family, many of whom work at the factory.

The building is well insured, she said, and the company has plans for what to do in case of disaster. But those plans didn't include a disaster quite as big as this. She was planning to meet with her management team for the rest of the day and all day tomorrow to figure out a plan. She hadn't been inside the destroyed part of the building yet, but said she was 95 percent sure all her knitting equipment was ruined.

It will take some time to get new machines, but the "brain" behind that computerized equipment is safe, she said. When she arrived on scene, she went into the building, through the smoke, to retrieve it.

Her estimated 140 employees can rest assured that they will be paid while the company gets back on its feet.

"Oh, we will be, no doubt about that," she said about the company's future. "Absolutely no doubt."

About For Bare Feet:

For Bare Feet is one of Brown County’s largest employers. In fall 2010, company officials reported between 130 and 150 employees at the Helmsburg facility.

Sharon Rivenbark founded the company in 1984, after learning that her 16-year-old son Tim was seriously ill and destined to become mentally disabled.

At the time, she was a fifth-grade teacher at Sprunica Elmentary.

After a doctor recommended some kind of occupational therapy for Tim, Rivenbark began exploring her options. She settled on socks.

With a $1,200 loan from her parents, she bought an old Banner knitting machine and she and Tim learned how to run it.

They rented a shop in Nashville’s Antique Alley and started selling striped tube socks. Business went well, but they soon found that customers wanted more.

Demand for the socks began to outpace the antique knitting machine’s capabilities after about four months in business. Rivenbark found another company to agree to produce her designs and keep the sock shop stocked.

Rivenbark had taken a one-year leave of absence from her teaching position. When that time was up, the district refused her another.

She had to choose between teaching and the sock shop, and she chose to stay with the socks and her son.

Tim died in January 1987 after a Christmas Day emergency surgery.

Shortly after that, the company that had been helping keep the shop stocked said it didn't want to make socks anymore.

“At that point, it was like, ‘This business has got to succeed. It’s what we have left of Tim and there’s no way it’s ever going to go away,’” Rivenbark told The Democrat last year.

She bought more machines and began expanding.

For Bare Feet was licensed to make socks with Indiana University’s logo for the IU bookstore. Sororities and fraternities began asking for socks with Greek letters.

From there, the company grew.

A sports division of For Bare Feet makes socks, headbands and wristbands for players in the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL, as well as sports outlets like Foot Locker and Finish line.

A novelty division sells designs worldwide, to places like the San Diego Zoo and Yosemite National Park.

A separate retail division has two stores in Nashville and additional stores in Colorado, Michigan, Tennessee and Arkansas.

“…We make millions and millions of socks a year,” Rivenbark said last year.

About the Helmsburg site:

Rivenbark began renting the old Helmsburg High School building from former owner Kenneth Fleener when she started the company. The brick building was home to the knitting and boarding machines and the company's offices.

Later on, Rivenbark bought that building, and the nearby original Helmsburg Elementary school building that now houses their corporate offices.  Other buildings, like the one that burned today, were added as the company grew.



This will be updated. Check back here periodically for more information.

-- Megan O'Bryan, Brown County Democrat, compiled this story with input from Sara Clifford

Obituaries
See Full List »

Leota G. (Skirvin) Smith, 93, Nashville
  Mother of Morris D. (Rita Shoop) Skirvin, Terry Skirvin, Marc A. (Dana) Skirvin and Patrick H.(Star) Skirvin, all of Nashville

Lourina Bower, 89, Westport
  Brown County native

Doris Mae (Purvis) White, 80, Morgantown
  Mother of Lucinda Mae (Dennis) Pope, Peggy Lynn (Rick) Butler, Nancy Jane (Stanley) White, and Dennis Ray White, all of Morgantown

  • April 17
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • April 17
    Rotary Club 'revelry' night
    5 to 6:30 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 17
    Nashville Town Council
    6:30 p.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 17
    BCHS sports for Thursday
    4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 7 p.m.
  • April 17
    Go Club at the library
    3:30 to 5 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 17
    Nashville Literary Club
    1:40 p.m., 2 p.m. IGA parking lot
  • April 17
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    6 p.m. Brown County High School, 234 Schoolhouse Lane
  • April 17
    CSVFD
    7:30 p.m. CSVFD fire station, 101 Firehouse Road, Nineveh
  • April 17
    Novel Bunch book club
    2 to 3:30 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 17
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 17
    "The Passion of the Christ" movie at church in New Bellsville
    6 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 17
    BC Community Corrections Advisory Board
    4 p.m. BCC Corrections office, 902 Deer Run Lane, Suite B.
  • April 18
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 18
    Government offices CLOSED
  • April 18
    Dave Miller at sports bar
    7 to 9 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 18
    Youth turkey hunting clinic at Yellowwood
    5 to 8 p.m. T.C. Steele Road, Belmont
  • April 18
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 18
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 18
    Good Friday, Easter services at Harmony Baptist
    7:30 p.m. Harmony Baptist Church, 3999 Mt. Liberty Road, New Bellesville
  • April 19
    Dave Miller at Abe Martin Lodge
    5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Abe Martin Lodge, Brown County State Park
  • April 19
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • April 19
    Live music at sports bar
    7 to 9:30 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 19
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 19
    Late night dancing at Out of the Ordinary
    9 p.m. Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 19
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    3 p.m., 6 p.m. Brown County Intermediate School, 260 Schoolhouse Lane
  • April 19
    Pest prevention/treatment presentation by holisitic health group
    2 to 4 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 19
    Live band at dance barn
    6 p.m., 7 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • April 19
    BCHS sports for Saturday
    9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m.
  • April 19
    Duncan Cemetery clean up Saturday, April 19
    9 a.m. 4100 Yellowwood Road, off State Road 46 West
  • April 19
    Easter egg hunts in the area
    1 p.m. Deer Run Park
  • April 20
    'Noah' movie at the Playhouse
    4 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 20
    All are welcome at Easter services
    7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m.
  • April 21
    Brown County Council
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 21
    B.C. Solid Waste Management Board
    5:15 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 21
    Brown County Water Utility 2014 annual meeting
    6 p.m., 7 p.m. Brown County High School, 234 School House Lane
  • April 21
    BCHS Varsity sports for Monday
    5 p.m., 5:30 p.m. Brown County High School, Brownstown Central
  • April 22
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive at the fairgrounds
  • April 22
    BCHS sports for Tuesday
    5 p.m., 6 p.m. Brown County High School, Indiana Creek
  • April 22
    Farmer's market informational meeting
    6 to 8 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 22
    Stellar Community public meeting
    5:30 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 23
    Election Board
    9:30 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 23
    Board of Zoning Appeals
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 23
    BCHS sports for Wednesday
    5 p.m. Brown County High School, Providence Jr./Sr. HS
  • April 23
    Live music at Hobnob restaurant
    6 to 8 p.m. Hobnob, 17 W. Main St.
  • April 23
    BC Parks & Rec. Board
    5:15 p.m. BC Parks & Rec. Office, 1001 Deer Run Lane
  • April 24
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • April 24
    Brown County/ Purdue Extension Board
    7 p.m. Extension Office, 802 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • April 24
    BCHS sports for Thursday
    4:30 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Brown County High School
  • April 25
    Live music at sports bar
    7 to 9 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • April 25
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • April 25
    Friends of the library plant sale
    3 to 6 p.m. Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 25
    Game night at dance barn
    6 to 10 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • April 25
    Live music at Out of the Ordinary
    7:30 p.m. to midnight Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 25
    Congressman Young to meet at Nashville Town Hall
    10 to 11 a.m. Town Hall, 200 Commercial St.
  • April 25
    Dave Miller at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • April 26
    Live band at dance barn
    6 p.m., 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Mike's Dance Barn, 2277 State Road 46 West
  • April 26
    Dance lessons at Out of the Ordinary
    7:30 p.m., 8 p.m. to midnight Out of the Ordinary, 61 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Friends of the library plant sale
    9 a.m. to noon Brown County Public Library, 205 N. Locust Lane
  • April 26
    Plant sale at BCSP Nature Center
    9 a.m. until sold out Brown County State Park Nature Center
  • April 26
    Harpeth Rising band at The Playhouse
    7:30 p.m. Brown County Playhouse, 70 S. Van Buren
  • April 26
    Hope for Hearts Farm free women's extravaganza
    9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Hope For Hearts Farm, 1005 State Road 45, Bean Blossom
  • April 26
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 26
    Live music at winery
    7 to 10 p.m. Chateau Thomas Winery, 225 S. Van Buren St.
  • April 27
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1-4 p.m. Three Story Hill at State Road 135 N., Fruitdale
  • April 28
    BC Alcoholic Beverage Board public hearing
    11 a.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 28
    Helmsburg Sewage Board
    7 p.m. B.C. Community Church Annex, 2370 Main St., Helmsburg
  • April 28
    B.C. Board of Health executive session
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • April 29
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 1
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 1
    Brown County Schools Board of Trustees
    3 p.m., 6 p.m. Helmsburg Elementary, 5378 Helmsburg Road
  • May 2
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 2
    Live band at 19th Hole sports bar
    6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • May 3
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 3
    Live band at 19th Hole sports bar
    8 to 11 p.m. Salt Creek Golf Retreat, 2359 State Road 46 East
  • May 4
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1 to 4 p.m. 18 W. Three Story Hill (at State Road 135 N.) Fruitdale
  • May 6
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 8
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 9
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 10
    Store to host bike blessing, open house
    10 a.m. to 5 p.m. House of Thunder, 4413 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 10
    Free community breakfast at Sprunica church
    8 to 10 a.m. Sprunica Baptist Church, 3902 Sprunica Road
  • May 10
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 11
    Brown County Railroad gallery
    1 to 4 p.m. 18 W. Three Story Hill (at State Road 135 N.) Fruitdale
  • May 13
    Euchre
    6 p.m. 746 Memorial Drive, (fairgrounds)
  • May 14
    Thrive Alliance Board of Directors
    3:30 to 5 p.m. ACSSCI main office conference room, 1531 13th St., Suite G900, Columbus
  • May 15
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 16
    Bingo
    6 p.m. Fruitdale Fire Station, 5200 State Road 135 North, Bean Blossom
  • May 22
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone
  • May 27
    Brown County Area Plan Commission
    6 p.m. County Office Building, 201 N. Locust Lane
  • May 29
    Gospel jam session
    6:30 p.m. Country Gospel Music Church, 5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone5181 State Road 46 East, Gnaw Bone