Archive for the ‘Fire’ Category

Wildfire Rages in Fort McMurray

Thursday, May 5th, 2016
Courtesy NASA/Goddard

Courtesy NASA/Goddard

The entire Fort McMurray area of Alberta has been evacuated following an out of control wildfire, the worst seen in Canada in many years. As of this posting, the wildfire has burned nearly 20,000 acres in a heavily populated area. Canadian officials have mobilized firefighters, aircraft and heavy equipment to the area; however, low humidity and strong winds continue to fuel the fire. The fire is so intense that even residents of Alberta who are not directly in the likely path of the fire’s expansion are at risk for hazards associated with smoke inhalation. (All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and soot.) Medically vulnerable individuals, such as those with respiratory ailments, fetuses, young children and the elderly are at elevated risk of harm from smoke exposure.

This image, captured by a spectroradiometer equipment aboard a NASA satellite, shows the Fort McMurray area almost completely obliterated by the clouds of smoke rising from the fire.  There are three things we should all do: (1) pray for rain in Alberta – the area has been arid for some time and emergency response officials believe rain is the only hope of slowing the fire’s path; (2) support the relief efforts with a contribution to the Canadian Red Cross; and (3) re-check our own fire safety protocols. Does your business have an up-to-date evacuation plan in the event of a widespread fire? And have you confirmed that adequate fire safety plans are in place to protect your home and family and the homes and families of your employees?

Poignant Reminder of Fire Hazards

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016


The beauty of a historic church was still visible even after being gutted by a fire on Sunday. The Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sava, a 160-year-old landmark structure in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, was severely damaged by a fire reportedly caused by candles that were not fully extinguished following the Orthodox Easter worship services. Church officials are trying to determine if any part of the structure may be preserved and let’s pray that they are successful. In addition to its historic significance, St. Sava was the spiritual home to 700 or so people in its congregation who attend weekly services. Disasters can be devastating to cultural and historic treasures. What struck me about this disaster was the speed with which the fire spread; within a few hours, the flames from the church candles had engulfed the entire structure. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of fire safety and worth remembering as the 2016 storm season officially begins within a month. The hurricane forecast will capture the news headlines, but fires remain the more common threat.

Fire Prevention Week Starts Today

Sunday, October 4th, 2015
Fire Prevention Week

Fire Prevention Week

Fire Prevention Week begins today, offering a timely opportunity to update training for your employees and their families on how to reduce the risk of one of the most common disasters. This key message of this year’s Fire Prevention Week is “Hear the beep where you sleep” underscoring the need to install smoke alarms in every bedroom. Smoke alarms save lives; having a working smoke alarm reduces by one-half your chances of dying in a fire. Having a working smoke alarm is especially critical between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. when nearly half of home fire deaths occur, as people are asleep. If yours is among the eight million home-based businesses in the U.S., the chances that a fire will damage your home office are reduced by having working smoke alarms in your home, particularly in your bedroom.

I came very close to learning about fire safety the hard way, when I rented a property with an option to purchase it. A pre-purchase home inspection revealed 49 pages of serious violations of housing code, including the absence of working fire and carbon monoxide detectors as required by state law.  What made the findings even more alarming were the many other electrical fire hazards the inspector found and the fact that other units in the building are occupied by senior citizens. I invited city and state inspectors to my home, where I have my home office, and shared with them the home inspection report. They not only confirmed the findings, they made additional observations of their own and took measures to compel the landlord to bring the property up to code. The scary thing was that these fire hazards were completely invisible to me. And as I was working from a home office, I spent most of the 24 hours of the day being (unknowingly) exposed to these risks,

In addition to updating measures to protect your own workplace, home and employees, this week offers an opportunity for supporting your community. Fire Prevention Week takes place the first week of October to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 that killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures and burned more than 2,000 acres. Many businesses will host events to support the efforts of their local fire departments to raise awareness of fire safety. And if you work in a multi-tenant facility, you might want to meet with your neighboring businesses to discuss fire safety measures or review drills together. The safety of your business is enhanced when your neighboring businesses are also taking measures to reduce fire risks.


Complacent in Colorado

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Smoke Plumes Near the Garden of the Gods and Some Firefighting in Action

Trevor Dierdorff is the founder, president and chief executive officer of Amnet, a company that designs, implements and supports computer networks for businesses with 10 – 200 computers. Every year since 2005, readers of the Colorado Springs Business Journal have selected Amnet as “Best IT Consulting Company”. I met Trevor in Colorado Springs at the annual awards luncheon of the Colorado Small Business Development Centers, where my hosts took me to see the beautiful Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak, areas now affected by severe wildfires. I want to extend my thanks to him for contributing this guest blog to share his thoughts and his photographs about the wildfires in his community.

Complacent Colorado: Now Thinking About Disaster Preparedness and Business Continuity by Trevor Dierdorff

Fires raging just west of Colorado Springs have really brought disaster preparedness to the forefront here. In Colorado Springs, we are pretty insulated from most disasters. We are too far inland for hurricanes and big earthquakes. We don’t get tornadoes like the mid-west. We get a little snow here, but it has been fifteen years since we had a decent blizzard so we Coloradoans get a little complacent about disasters and disaster preparedness.

As of today, the Waldo Canyon Fire has consumed nearly 6,000 acres and is only 5 percent contained. While no homes or businesses have been destroyed (yet), entire cities and neighborhoods have been forced to evacuate. Highway 24 west of town has been shut for days and one of my employees lives on the other side of the roadblock. He was able to go 80 miles around the roadblock to get a hotel in town.

What if your business building was intact, but the police or fire department was going to keep you out of it for days or even weeks? Could you still serve your customers? Probably not, if you own a restaurant, retail store or hotel. Of course, that answer varies depending on what type of business you have and whether or not you have remote access.

Does your insurance cover a situation like this? Loss of Business Income Insurance does not typically cover your financial losses in this situation unless your structure is damaged which caused your losses. You may want to add this coverage if this is concern to you.

Picture Taken Yesterday from the Interstate Near My Home

Here are some questions that you should ask yourself and then document your answers as part of your business continuity plan.

What would you need to do in the first 24 hours, after 3 days, after one week? These answers will probably be different.

What are some likely scenarios? Start with these.

What are some extreme scenarios? Don’t leave these out, but certainly cover the likely ones first.

What documentation have you done of your business assets and IT infrastructure?

Do you have a process to contact your clients and your staff?

What would you tell your staff to do?

Who has access to your Business Continuity Plan if you are unavailable?

This is just a short list of questions to get you thinking. Remember, everything you do before a disaster strikes determines the likelihood of remaining in business after the disaster.

These homeowners were evacuated at 1:00 a.m. the night the fire started. What would you grab? What would you leave?

Devastating Fire Strikes San Francisco Suburb

Friday, September 10th, 2010

California declared a state of emergency in San Mateo county when an explosion, believed to be caused by a broken gas line, sent flames through San Bruno, a San Francisco suburb. The fire spread over an area of 10 acres, destroying more than 50 homes and killing at least one person. More than 20 others sustained burn injuries. An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the explosion. The local news media interviewed residents who had fled their homes. One person after the next described how they picked up critical documents before leaving. There are two takeaways from this frightening fire. The first is that you should have all of your critical documents backed up and online available for remote retrieval. Scan in your critical documents and upload them to a secure site. When a fire strikes, you should not delay even one second to retrieve documents. Prompt evacuation is called for; do not put yourself in harm’s way by assembling documents and other items. Human safety is priority number one. The second lesson is that while we are all experiencing difficulty in this recession, we should give what we can to the Red Cross to aid those who lose access to their homes in fires.

Fire Destroys Vermont Landmark

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010
Traditional New England

Traditional New England

The New York Times reported the moving story of how life in a small town in Vermont was upended when arson destroyed the general store that was the center of community life. The Putney General Store, built over 200 years ago, was likely the oldest general store in Vermont. A landmark building, tourists would pose for photographs in front of the store even as residents relied on it as a hub of information. The town has raised $200,000 to repair the building, but the story is a reminder of how small businesses define the character of local communities, unlike the anonymous national chain franchises or big box institutions. The tragedy also reminds us that everyday disasters, such as fires, are more likely to strike that major disasters.

Fire Hazards

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
Thankfully, It Wasn't Worse

Thankfully, It Wasn't Worse

In Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses (Wiley, second edition, 2008), I wrote about fire safety, including the importance of grounded electrical connections, maintaining a no-smoking policy at work and not leaving cooking appliances unattended, for example. Careful observation of safety procedures can significantly reduce your risk of fire at the workplace. Unfortunately, Credit Suisse learned this lesson the hard way when an employee left a space heater plugged in and on over the Thanksgiving holiday. The attached photograph shows the physical damage that resulted when an electrical fire started from the space heater. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Nevertheless, this is an important lesson in fire safety. Many small businesses become distracted by thinking of catastrophic risks specific to their geographic locale (hurricanes in the Gulf Coast states, earthquakes in California, etc.), but in fact, it is the everyday disasters, such as fire, that pose the greatest threat. Please take this opportunity to review your fire safety procedures to ensure that they are up to date and employees are compliant with them.

California Wildfires Threaten Homes and Businesses

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

California has experienced more than 5,000 fires this year to date. Although the state budget has a $23 billion deficit, a $500 million reserve has been established for emergencies such as fires.  A wildfire north of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Wilderness Area of the Angeles National Forest burned over 140,000 acres and cost $21 million in firefighting services. Thousands of homeowners have been displaced. The regret most often expressed is the failure to preserve treasured family photographs, as those memories cannot be replaced. I have all of my photographs scanned in and stored online for safekeeping. The cost is negligible and the benefit incalculable.

Use Daylight Savings Time to Update Your Fire Safety Plan

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009
Fires spread quickly, be prepared

Fires spread quickly, be prepared

Early yesterday morning a fire started on the second floor of an apartment building in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood. The fire killed one resident and caused serious injuries to four others, when they jumped from the fifth and sixth floors of the building. Eight firefighters were also injured. Fires are actually the most common demand on the resources of the local chapters of the American Red Cross. Each year in the U.S., fires kills more than 4,000 people and injure more than 25,000. Many of these fires could be prevented. Fires cause close to $9 billion in annual property losses. Daylight Savings Time begins at 2:00 a.m. on March 8; use this occasion to put new batteries in your smoke alarms at both your place of work and your home and review your fire safety plan with your employees and your families.

Fire Prevention Week

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Fire Prevention Week falls during the month of October and with it, a new Fire Safety Census was published by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company and the International Association of Fire Fighters (“IAFF”). The survey revealed that many people unknowingly engage in risky behaviors and while nearly all respondents expressed concern about fire safety, many did not take basic precautions, such as checking out home smoke alarms or learning how to use a fire extinguisher. Based on the survey results, Liberty Mutual and the IAFF have put forward fire safety recommendations:

  • Test smoke alarms once a month.
  • Change smoke alarm batteries once a year – at an easy-to-remember time, such as when clocks are changed.
  • Replace a smoke alarm that’s more than 10 years old
  • Buy a fire extinguisher, mount it, and learn how to use it. Revisit the instructions every six months.
  • Never leave burning candles unattended or near combustible materials – home fires caused by candles have doubled in the past decade.
  • If a fire alarm sounds, or smoke is visible, evacuate first and then call the fire department.
  • Close doors behind you when leaving the room and building to slow the spread of fire and smoke.
  • Plan an escape route that shows two ways out of each room.
  • Identify a meeting place near the home.
  • Practice an escape plan – during the day and night – at least twice a year.
  • Talk to children frequently about preventing fires and escaping fires.
  • Do not leave a dryer on unattended.
  • Do not leave a stove or oven on unattended.
  • Keep portable heaters at least three feet away from all combustible materials and never leave them on unattended.
  • Never disable a smoke alarm.
  • Do not overload power strips.
  • Turn holiday lights off when not at home.

For more information on the survey and fire safety tips go to