Lessons from the Fire – Part Two

Fans and a large dehumidifier cope with some water damage on my floor.

So, late one afternoon, my building caught fire. My apartment was fine; other people weren’t so lucky. This is part two of lessons learned. Check out part one for my initial thoughts on having a backup plan and other realizations.

Stuff Matters!

It would be nice if I had a zen-like approach to material possessions. I think I lead a fairly minimalist life but when I couldn’t get back into the building, all I thought about was my stuff. I knew the fire didn’t reach my apartment but I was worried about water damage. I pictured water pouring down on my brand new MacBook Pro and soaking the pillow-top mattress that I like so much. Plus, books, photos, art, letters from friends, keepsakes, personal items, clothes and everything else.

I’m glad that I have renters’ insurance (that’s really a must) but so much of the analog stuff that really matters is irreplaceable.

My Online Life

Fortunately, most of my digital stuff is online in some capacity. Nearly all of my photos from 2006 on are on Flickr. My book is on Amazon. One of my screenplays is on Scribd. Short stories and articles are on the sites they were published at. I also use a Google Site as a personal intranet – it contains my resume, other short stories, older screenplays, other docs.

What would’ve been lost is docs in progress, as well as the many passwords necessary for modern life these days – that would’ve sucked. I do use a backup (Time Machine) but the backup is in my apartment.

There’s No Accounting for Stupidity

The fire was caused by an unattended candle. A woman left her apartment with a burning candle on a dresser. That resulted in a fire that left 21 people homeless.

Initial Reports Will be Wrong

I watched Channel 4 report on the story, implying that residents were being kept out of the building. I saw the story while sitting in my undamaged apartment.

Another report said that there was $250,000 in damages. But if a whole floor of apartments has been condemned (about 12 units), then that figure has to be higher.

Anonymous Commenters are Jerks

There’s no greater forum for online hate than the comments section of the Washington Post. Read any story, particularly about crime or local politics, and check out the comments for unhinged vitriol of all kinds. And of course in the comments on the fire story, some anonymous person said that my building was a hellhole filled with bedbugs and venereal disease. Nice…

I’m 100% for free speech. But, Washington Post, august institution of journalism that you claim to be, you allow crazy people to publish content on your web site? How are you different from any random blog?

Communication Matters

Since the fire, I have received only a single communication from Borger Management, who runs the building. It’s an officious, unsigned memo from an Executive Vice President saying that restoration of the building will be lengthy and that “certain actions must be taken for everyone’s safety.” It also has this confusing statement:

We cannot allow anyone to enter an unsafe building with high levels of water damage, broken glass, smoke damage, and no electricity.

Considering they slipped this under the door of my apartment, where the electricity is on, and where I am presently typing, I think what they meant was:

The ninth floor and other parts of the building are still unsafe, due to water damage and broken glass. Access to these areas will be restricted until they’re safe to enter.

Two points:

  1. Can’t you hire somebody who knows how to write? The statement in the memo says that no one is allowed to enter the building while, in fact, everyone except the people on the 9th and 10th floors are allowed in.
  2. This is your communications plan? After a fire, everyone is going to have lots of questions. It would’ve been better to send a manager door-to-door to reassure residents and answer their concerns. A building-wide meeting would also be a good idea, as well as a phone number or web site for people to check out.

Really, it’s not difficult. Don’t hide behind memos. Put a human out there and let them answer questions honestly.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

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