Opened a year ago to offer custom deer processing, 5-Alarm Smokehouse & Custom Butchering has also grown quickly into a destination shop for quality meats.

Owner Jeff Brown, a Fremont Township firefighter for over 20 years, opened 5-Alarm because he didn’t like the way his own game was being processed, with parts being mixed into other hunters’ venison to make sausage, for example.

“Here we do one deer at a time, even the specialty items. We’ll do one four-pound mix for sausage, for example.”

“We do custom butchering,” adds front-end manager Jerry Nesbitt, former owner of the Blanchard Thriftway.

“Right now we have six cattle hanging to cut, and two hogs, with eight or nine more coming in next week. We’ll be busy right up until hunting season.”

Mike Woodbury, new this year, is the cutting room manager. “He’s an excellent cutter,” Nesbitt says. Nicole assists Mike with weighing and packaging, and Arica works the front counter.

So far, 5-Alarm has grown mostly through word-of-mouth, and marketing to local businesses and restaurants. They also offer a quick lunch special for employees of local businesses, with sandwiches made to order, chips and a soft drink for just $4.99.

The building was designed and constructed with meat processing in mind. A geothermal heating and cooling system provides the consistent year-round temperatures 5-Alarm needs.

From being in the construction business himself, Jeff was familiar with how well geothermal heating and cooling works, and he knew it would pay for itself.

The geothermal system also operates the chillers, keeping it cold enough to make a big difference in the hanging time before livestock is butchered.

Jeff is a green builder by trade, and worked with Dan Rons of Custom Heating & Plumbing in Mt. Pleasant to set up the systems and insulate the building properly.

They used foam insulation in the building’s block construction, cell foam for ceilings, and a fiberglass insulation made for use on steel ceilings in the remainder of the building.

He also appreciated working with HomeWorks Tri-County Electric staff members, including Missy Robson, manager of customer service, and Nick Rusnell, energy advisor. They answered his specific questions about geothermal systems and how they could work for his business. Missy and Nick also helped Jeff set up dual-fuel metering, which cuts his energy costs even further.

The geothermal system cools the back room, kill floor and cutting room (kept at a constant 50 degrees), and regulates moisture as livestock hangs for butchering and gives a better aging process.

Jeff estimates it saves $500-$700 a month, especially in the summer.

It also works well in winter. Last heating season, Jeff says, he used just 3 percent of a 250-gallon LP tank for backup heat in the retail area.