When Once in a Lifetime is Once Too Many

When Once in a Lifetime is Once Too Many

By: Nicholas A. Dunlap, CPM


The following post is taken from my January 2013 “Cover Your Assets” column in which I discussed dealing with a fire at one of your buildings.  I am pleased to say that I am going to walk the property in just a couple of hours to sign off and certify that all work has been completed and that all units are back online.  I had previously blogged about this incident here.


Six months ago, I was the guy who would sit down to lunch with colleagues and share my tales of luck or good fortune for never suffering a building fire.  While a previous column “Organized Chaos” touched on disaster preparedness, those were strictly preventative measures.  Sure, there were minor blazes; one due to a tenant mistaking his wall-heater for a way to dry out his wet bath towel and the other due to a faulty alarm clock of all things.  But a three alarm fire? Nope.  Never.  Not me. 


Turning Over a New Leaf


Today, I am no longer that person.  And now: after the fact, I have learned more than I care to know both about human nature and the horrendous headache that is experiencing a fire at one of your properties.  All things considered, I am better for it.  It is a feather in my cap of experience, so to speak.  A note to slow learners: be prepared to think on your feet.  Everything comes at you so fast that you simply try to respond intelligently and assertively and in our case, we made all the right decisions. 


The Day Of and The Aftermath


Having spent a good 30 hours at the property over the weekend and hundreds of hours in the weeks following, I was able to put our best foot forward in terms of community relations.  As fate would have it, I got the call at 2pm, Friday afternoon.  This was a three-alarm fire that required 16 engines, shut down of traffic at two major intersections, ultimately destroyed 8 units at this complex and displaced about 30 people.  It was also a major media spectacle due to a slow news day.  Needless to say, we made the headlines. Fortunately, no persons or pets were injured.  Unfortunately, the cause of the fire was a tenant cooking with grease and leaving the range unmanned.  Entirely preventable.   


Putting In Work


So, if you are a rookie and have yet to join the club, or if you are a veteran who has several fires under your belt, here are a few things to consider. 


Keep your insurance agent and insurance carrier’s claim numbers in your smart phone or use the dropbox app to store policies and key contact info.  This helped get the ball rolling immediately in terms of remediation, repair and rebuilding.     


Have a pre-written policy in place on how to handle the media, who should or should not talk and who should or should not be allowed on the property.  I noticed newspaper and television reporters entering the property and interviewing anyone they could to spin a story.  At one point, I was amused to hear that 30 units had been destroyed.  Amused of course because there are only 23 units in the complex.  When I broke the news to the reporter, she was disappointed to have lost such a sensational sound byte.    


Use this as an opportunity to fill vacant space at other buildings you may own or manage.  We were able to relocate five of the displaced families into three of our other properties. 


As day one came to an end, the Red Cross Field Manager informed me that in all of her experience, she had never seen an Owner and a Manager working together with residents on-site like we were.  To see that our efforts were recognized and appreciated, that meant the most.