When Brandon Fisher founded Center Rock Inc. in 1998, his goal wasn’t to become a hero, which is what he is today. His goal was to drill into the earth, to do so safely and efficiently, and to turn a profit. Fisher is one of those men, much like Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, whose years of quiet mastery, skill and expertise were called upon at a pivotal moment in the lives of other people. Like Sullenberger, Fisher rose to the occasion. He and his team drilled the hole that saved 33 miners and lifted the world’s spirits, and they did the job ahead of schedule and under intense pressure. If you want to know who really saved those 33 men trapped in the San Jose mine in Copiapo, Chile, 2,000 feet beneath the surface of the earth, you have to ask the following question: Who is Brandon Fisher?
This is what we know about Fisher from his own company, and from published reports. Fisher graduated from Berlin (Pa.) High School in 1990 and dropped out of college. (Center Rock’s company website diplomatically states, “Brandon took some college classes.”) He went to work in his early 20s as an oil and gas sales representative and discovered his passion. At 26 years old, he struck out on his own and founded Center Rock in Berlin, Pa. Just four years later, the company participated in its first high-profile rescue mission. In July 2002 Center Rock helped free nine miners trapped underground for more than three days in the flooded Quecreek Mine.
Fisher grew the company from fledgling startup to strong small business by developing a highly effective “LP Drill,” also known as a low-profile drill, which was used in the Chilean rescue. Center Rock now employs 75 people, all of whom watched the dramatic rescue from Pennsylvania on a television next to a sign that said “33 Lives.” If a business’s ethos is a reflection of its CEO, then Fisher is a worker. “We still have customers who still need products today, so we’re working and we’re celebrating,” inside sales manager Becky Dorcon told The Associated Press during the rescue. The company is tight-knit. Fisher’s wife, Julie, is its sales director.
The task facing Fisher’s team in Chile was daunting. Said Fisher, “There was no way for us to know how long this would take…We were drilling in extremely hard rock.” The team used Center Rock’s pneumatic-driven air compression drills to chip away at the rock like a jackhammer. The speed with which it did so was stunning.
The mineshaft caved in on Aug. 5. On Aug. 7 new cave-ins prevented any attempt at a direct rescue through a ventilation shaft. On Aug. 12 Chile’s mining minister stopped just short of saying the miners were dead. On Aug. 22 a drill probe reached the miners. The miners sent back a note that said, “All 33 of us are well inside the shelter.” The rescue team began sending supplies down. It was believed that the men would not be rescued before Christmas. Center Rock started drilling on Aug. 30. On Sept. 17 rescuers reached the cavern where the men were trapped with a bore hole, which would be widened. On Oct. 9 the drilling rig known as “Plan B” broke through to the chamber. On Oct. 12, the first man, Florencio Avalos, was pulled to the surface after spending 69 days underground.
Center Rock employee Tom Foy told AP, “They said, ‘Well, heck, they ain’t getting out till Christmastime, and I know and Brandon knows and we all knew we could get down to them faster than that. We proved that Center Rock is a little company, but they do big things.”
Fisher directed the effort on-site in Chile and returned to the U.S. to watch the rescue on television with family and friends. He got little sleep during the 33-day rescue mission. Days were 80 to 85 degrees in the dry, dusty, barren Chilean desert and nights were 35 to 40. “When I saw the first guy looking healthy — that’s what it’s all about,” Fisher told the Daily American. “But the mission is not over until the last guy is out.”
Fisher made a point to thank his employees and national and international suppliers.
How much you want to bet he’s back at work on Monday?