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Emerson has a ‘Fireside’ chat

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson noticed a large cube comprised of intersecting plastic strips that created square cells. The plastic cube looked like a gigantic box made to hold canning jars.

Emerson knew immediately what she was looking at Monday during her tour of the Fireside Group business in Park Hills Industrial Park.

“I’ve ridden on top of those,” she said. “They’re removable flood walls.”

Emerson, two members of her staff and local media toured the facility as part of Emerson’s commitment to familiarize herself with businesses in Missouri’s Eighth District. Fireside Group President Tom Kearns and his son Andy, who serves as vice president for SportsPlay Equipment talked with Emerson about Fireside Group’s companies that operates out of the Park Hills facility.

SportsPlay, which has its headquarters in St. Louis, manufactures plastic panels used in playground equipment. Emerson watched as a computer driven machine swept back and forth across a green panel, cutting shapes out of the center. In the next room, two men fitted metal pipes together while a white-clad worker wearing a gas mask, spray painted metal framework that will be used in playground equipment.

The Park Hills facility also houses a plastic gasket manufacturing company, a small manufacturing company that makes paint shakers, and an assembly company that puts together the Geocell Systems’ Rapid Deployment Flood Wall — the product Emerson recognized.

The units can be shipped flat, then pulled open to create the celled containers. Sand or any other material is poured into the cells to create a strong, sturdy unit. The modular units can be erected to create flood walls more than 65 times faster than building sandbag walls. The resulting barriers are stronger than sandbag walls and have less leakage.

Andy Kearns said that after they are used in a flood barrier, the units are returned to Park Hills, where they are cleaned, repaired if needed, and recertified for use.

After the tour, Emerson and the Kearns discussed challenges for businesses.

“Last year, it was prices because the cost of steel skyrocketed,” Tom Kearns said. “This year, it’s the economy. The stock market is up and down.”

Emerson agreed.

“It’s hard to read trends,” she said. “We haven’t done a good job reading trends for quite a while now.”

Emerson also discussed her opposition to the cap-and-trade bill that would cap the amount of carbon U.S. companies can produce. Companies that exceed that cap, could purchase or “trade” carbon allowances or permits to cover the extra emissions. Emerson estimated that the cost of implementing the bill would be prohibitive to companies.

“The equipment to measure emissions could cost a company $30,000,” she said. “If you think it’s bad now, just wait.”

Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at

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