Parkmoor building fire refines disaster planning approach

Roof damage at the Parkmoor Medical Building was caused by fire in May 2008.

Roof damage at the Parkmoor Medical Building was caused by fire in May 2008.

Businesses in El Paso County aren’t threatened by earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornados or mudslides.

But that doesn’t mean disaster isn’t lurking.

Frozen water pipes, lightening, circuit sparks, electrical outages, overflowing sinks, sewage back-ups and wayward automobiles that plow into storefronts are just some of the very real, though unforeseen, threats to local business owners.

That’s why most owners have property and casualty insurance to cover temporary loss of revenue and equipment, but few are ready for the onslaught of emergency and restoration measures required to return to business as usual.

Those who have been hit will tell you the unexpected does happen.

They’ll tell you the toughest days are those immediately following an emergency situation. Issues such as the interruption of daily operations, loss of business records and difficulty in re-establishing communications with clients and suppliers always arise.

Property manager and Front Range Commercial broker Bob Nolette is one who experienced  disaster during May 2008.

The call came at 3 a.m. The Colorado Springs Fire Department told him that his out-of-state client’s Parkmoor Medical Building off North Academy Boulevard was on fire.

“I spent the night and the entire next day on site,” Nolette said. “I was there as it (the fire) was brought under control and called the insurance company right away.”

By morning, tenants and doctors’ patients began arriving.

“The tenants wanted to get in to salvage what they could, to make sure their computer records were still there,” Nolette said. “The patients wanted to know why no one had called them, not realizing no one could get in to check schedules. We had to have someone posted there full-time to keep people out until the fire department deemed it safe.”

He said the fire was bad but that the water did the most damage.

“But you had to get the fire out,” he said.

The contractor contacted the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well as began preparing insurance claim estimates to cover repair of the building’s interior and roof as soon as the fire department left. But that was just the beginning.

Fortunately for Nolette, he’d been helping a tenant, BluSky Restoration that specialized in handling the aftermath of these types of events.

It took about 10 days for BluSky to get the smoke and water damage cleaned up in part of the building so some of the tenants could get back in.

“They set up a pressure differential with giant fans to keep the air from damaged portions out of the rest of the building. It was months before some (in the most heavily damaged areas) could get back in.”

A temporary wall was constructed to close off quarantined areas, but BluSky general manager Jason Cain said special care had to be taken to ensure a clean environment through the entire restoration process.

“One of the tenants was an oral surgeon, so we didn’t want any contamination or distraction while we were working to affect his patients,” he said.

The Parkmoor Medical fire was caused by electrical heat build-up in a small equipment closet.

To deal with unforeseen calamity, Nolette believes building owners and tenants must plan for the loss of information stored on computers or the destruction of physical office equipment and watch for overloaded circuits and poorly ventilated closets filled with electrical gear.

“Every tenant in every building across this country probably can relate,” he said. My advice is to make sure you don’t have 15 pieces of equipment on one power cord — or too much equipment jammed into a poorly ventilated closet. In this case, it was a server where heat built up that led to fire breaking out.”

He also advises businesses to be sure to back up company record, preferably off-site.

“That ended up being crucial to some of our tenants as a lot of the servers on the north end of the building were damaged and couldn’t be restored. Nobody thinks it will happen to them,” he said.

One Parkmoor tenant had allowed insurance to lapse and was the second hardest-hit office in the building.

Another tip: Make sure any lease agreement between the tenant and the landlord is up to date and as unambiguous as possible.

“We dealt with five different insurance companies, between the owner and the tenants — and we’re still working on some issues almost two years later,” he said.

But above all, Nolette reminded landlords to keep a list of key individuals ready to call in case of an emergency — with the insurance carrier’s phone number at the top of the list.

Cain, who headed an emergency responders’ support team in January 2007 that responded to the multi-million dollar Castle West arson fire, agreed, noting that last year, six of the projects his company worked on were total losses.

And Mother Nature is usually not to blame.

“Unfortunately, there’s a pretty good likelihood that what we’ll be dealing with is human error. Somebody left a stove on, turned the heat down too low or didn’t maintain their electrical equipment.”