American LaFrance auction a success for county

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (WCIV) -- It looks like Berkeley County will be able to recover all of the delinquent fees owed by American LaFrance when the company abruptly shut down its plant in January.

At an auction earlier this week, officials said nearly 300 people put in bids on items from the now-defunct plant. Everything up for auction sold, officials said.

Officials said Friday's data was just preliminary, but the numbers looked promising for the county. Officials said it appears they will also make enough money to cover the cost of the auction.

"The debt left by American LaFrance was a major concern," said Dan Davis, Berkeley County Supervisor. "Although we attempted to reach out to the company, they were unresponsive. I did not feel it was right or just to allow this burden to fall upon our citizens and taxpayers. We explored several options, and the one which seemed most likely to recoup the full debt was to conduct an auction."

Officials expect the final transactions to be complete within the next few weeks, at which time the final results and figures will be released.

When the fire and rescue vehicle manufacturer shut down its Berkeley County plant, it also shuttered operations in Los Angeles and Ephrata, Penn. The company had about 150 employees, according to an official with the Caromi Volunteer Fire Department, one of American LaFrance's customers.

Two former employees filed a class action lawsuit against the company, claiming the employees were not given federally mandated notice of the shutdown.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act gives protections to employees and their families by requiring businesses to give at least 60 days notice of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs.

According to the law firm, the two employees filing the suit had worked for American LaFrance for nearly 10 years.

The only comment American LaFrance has made on the matter came in a release when the plant was closed, saying it was impossible to continue production.

"Unfortunately, the company's unexpected current financial condition requires the discontinuation of operations in these locations at this time and these facilities are not expected to reopen," the company said.

American LaFrance has a 173-year history with fire vehicle manufacturing that includes hand-drawn, horse-drawn, and steam-powered fire engines.

In January 2008, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but emerged seven months later with a new business plan to focus on the fire truck body building portion of its operation.

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