Advance preparedness helps a Philadelphia-based company reduce the devastating effects of its shop fire.
|A photo shows some of the extensive water and smoke damage inflicted by a fire in Carmana Designâs millwork shop.|
Carmana Designs in Philadelphia, PA, has been in business 28 years, and in that length of time, says co-owner Anna Maria Vona, âBy the law of averages, somethingâs going to happen.
âChances are you wonât have a complete conflagration,â she says, like the fire that consumed Kitty Hawk, NC-based Cozy Kitchens in 2003, described in the preceding article. But a company still can have extensive damage from natural or man-made disasters, like the $250,000 in smoke and water damage that Carmana suffered in a 2006 fire.
And it is not just the physical damage that can cause grief. For Vona, a main aftermath of the Nov. 11 fire was the overwhelming amount of insurance paperwork it created. âJust keeping up with it was a nightmare,â she remembers. âIf I didnât have it under control, it would have been a nightmare in capital letters.â
Vona was fortunate that she was always a very organized person. Always wary of the unexpected, she had kept extensive records of the purchase and subsequent improvements made to the companyâs eight-year-old building and each piece of machinery. She had all the receipts, filed by date, in two three-ring binders.
âI just took two binders out and told the insurance rep, âWhat do you want to know?ââ she recalls. âI was able to find things within seconds.
âThe faster you can access your records and provide information to your insurance company, the quicker you can get paid and the quicker you can get back in business,â she advises.
When it comes to insurance, Vona further recommends that woodworking firms use an industry-specific insurer. In her case, it was Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Co. âThey know what youâre going through,â she says. Some repair technicians wanted their pay immediately, and, âThey gave us $10,000 right then and there,â she adds.
The Grim Details
The fire happened on a Saturday afternoon, when her husband, Carmana Designs co-owner Carmen Vona, was doing some last-minute sanding on metal rods. Running metal through a widebelt sander when a dust collection system is running is an industry no-no, she says, but he was unaware that their system was turned on. Sparks flew up into the collector and, âThey saw the smoke ball coming down the hallway.â
Her husband grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed for the rafters, but he couldnât put it out. When firefighters arrived, they hacked the dust collector open, adding oxygen to the fire, and then the roof caught. Then a torrential rain arrived, pouring water down through the damaged roof.
Carmana Designsâ 30,000-square-foot facility runs the length of a city block. The Vonas lease out 10,000 square feet and use 20,000 square feet for their custom cabinetry shop and millwork operation. The millwork section, where they make cases, doors and mouldings used by Carmanaâs cabinetry shop and also sold to others, suffered the most damage. Fortunately, the custom cabinetry and furniture shop, which Anna Maria Vona calls the heart of the company, escaped damage.
|Carmana Designsâ Weinig moulder after the fire, when it suffered extensive water damage.|
In the millwork shop, after the fire was extinguished, the firefighters inadvertently stuck a 3-inch hose into the ductwork that connected back to the machinery, without realizing they were sending water into all the equipment. If her husband hadnât been on hand, the damage would have been much worse, Vona says.
âWe have a Weinig six-head moulder. It filled up with water from the inside,â she says. To prevent rust, âWithin minutes, my husband was taking the heads out.â
Even so, âThey [Weinig] had to send a technician here for a week.â
Carmanaâs insurance paid for a plane seat to hold the technicianâs tools, Vona recalls. âHe was great, and he rebuilt that whole machine.â
The heads were overnighted to Weinig and, âThey worked overtime to refinish all those heads, take the rust off and recalibrate them,â Vona says. âAnd they sent them back the next day.â Much of the other machinery was repaired by A-Pro in Howell, NJ.
|The high gloss of this ribbon stripe African mahogany table by Carmana Designs reflects its surroundings. It is an example of the custom work done by this 28-year-old firm.|
The millwork shop machinery was out of service for a couple of weeks but, âWe had just finished milling up all the parts for about $30,000 worth of custom doors,â Vona says. So assembly kept the shop busy for a month. Work in the cabinetry shop went on as usual.
âThe paperwork was the biggest headache,â she says, even with her high level of preparadness, which lessened the blow. âWe were pretty much done with the bulk of the claims by February or March.â
Vona is adamant, however, in recommending that woodworking shops set up simple and easily accessible records systems. âYou have to make something that works for you,â she says. âI see so many shops, and I see their office is just a mess, piles and piles of papers. They donât know where anything is.â
She adds receipts to her binders nearly every day. âThe newest is on top,â she says. âThat way, you could say to the insurance company, âI spent $30,000 on the dust collection when I bought it, but I put another $15,000 into it.ââ
She keeps duplicate information in her computer, but computers can burn. So the precautious Vona says, âEvery single piece of paper is in a fireproof safe in a binder. It stays there religiously all the time.â
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