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 Design’s 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, “By the law of averages, something’s going to happen.

“Chances are you won’t have a complete conflagration,” 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. “Just keeping up with it was a nightmare,” she remembers. “If I didn’t have it under control, it would have been a nightmare in capital letters.”

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 company’s eight-year-old building and each piece of machinery. She had all the receipts, filed by date, in two three-ring binders.

“I just took two binders out and told the insurance rep, ‘What do you want to know?’” she recalls. “I was able to find things within seconds.

“The 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,” 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. “They know what you’re going through,” she says. Some repair technicians wanted their pay immediately, and, “They gave us $10,000 right then and there,” 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, “They saw the smoke ball coming down the hallway.”

Her husband grabbed a fire extinguisher and headed for the rafters, but he couldn’t 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 Designs’ 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 Carmana’s 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 Designs’ Weinig moulder after the fire, when it suffered extensive water damage.

Further Complications

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 hadn’t been on hand, the damage would have been much worse, Vona says.

“We have a Weinig six-head moulder. It filled up with water from the inside,” she says. To prevent rust, “Within minutes, my husband was taking the heads out.”

Even so, “They [Weinig] had to send a technician here for a week.”

Carmana’s insurance paid for a plane seat to hold the technician’s tools, Vona recalls. “He was great, and he rebuilt that whole machine.”

The heads were overnighted to Weinig and, “They worked overtime to refinish all those heads, take the rust off and recalibrate them,” Vona says. “And they sent them back the next day.” 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, “We had just finished milling up all the parts for about $30,000 worth of custom doors,” Vona says. So assembly kept the shop busy for a month. Work in the cabinetry shop went on as usual.

“The paperwork was the biggest headache,” she says, even with her high level of preparadness, which lessened the blow. “We were pretty much done with the bulk of the claims by February or March.”

Vona is adamant, however, in recommending that woodworking shops set up simple and easily accessible records systems. “You have to make something that works for you,” she says. “I see so many shops, and I see their office is just a mess, piles and piles of papers. They don’t know where anything is.”

She adds receipts to her binders nearly every day. “The newest is on top,” she says. “That way, you could say to the insurance company, ‘I spent $30,000 on the dust collection when I bought it, but I put another $15,000 into it.’”

She keeps duplicate information in her computer, but computers can burn. So the precautious Vona says, “Every single piece of paper is in a fireproof safe in a binder. It stays there religiously all the time.”

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