In the line of fire

In the line of fire

Disaster plans help limit loss of life and property
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Apr 01, 2011
National Repoert — The phone rang at 4 a.m. It was unnerving, recalls Dr. Rich Farris.

The fire department official on the other end of the line made it even worse.

In fact, Farris was informed that his 20-year-old practice was up in flames.

The Puyallup, Wash.-based Farris Veterinary Clinic was housed in a 100-year-old farmhouse, and the arson fire — which accompanied a burglary of cash and checks —destroyed the second floor along with numerous antique veterinary instruments and books. Thankfully, Farris says, no patients were inside the building at the time.

"It was pretty devastating," Farris concedes. "It wasn't complete destruction, but because the building was so old, we decided to rebuild."

Fires occur in veterinary hospitals, and they are typically due to electrical malfunctions or other non-criminal activity. Case in point? At the Thornhill Veterinary Clinic in Toronto in 2008, a dryer malfunction in the basement sparked a blaze. Some 10 dogs were in the kennels at the time and only five survived. The damage was estimated at $50,000, according to media reports. In July, another fire claimed The Old Country Animal Clinic in Plainview, N.Y.

Though the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) doesn't track stats on clinic fires, its disaster preparedness resources offer tips to reduce damage potential and offer ways to stay in compliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

For example, veterinary practices should have procedures in place to control and reduce accumulation of flammable and combustible waste material. Requirements also call for ongoing maintenance of heat-producing equipment. The group advises veterinarians to routinely track the dates and those responsible for equipment maintenance. It's one big step toward prevention.

Preparing for a rebuild
If a fire does break out, rebuilding is often necessary. While the rebuilding process was underway for Farris, he saw patients out of a 15-ft. by 40-ft. office trailer placed on the clinic's property, and the practice was "only out of business for two weeks, maybe three."

Getting the rebuild off the ground was challenging, Farris says, because the building was underinsured.

"The agent never really kept in contact with us, so when it came down to it, our coverage took care of the mortgage, and we didn't have enough to rebuild in that regard."

Farris received a check from his insurance company that covered the mortgage, but the bank called in the loan.

Thankfully, Farris says the building's age and a small rider in the policy afforded him the means to rebuild.

"The contents package on the initial underwriting saved us," he says. It was a rider for a code upgrade that made the rebuild possible. "Since the building was so old, we couldn't just tear away the damaged portion and rebuild. The old foundation was not coded." As a result, the insurance paid for a new foundation and demolition of the old structure.

Farris was also able to use his network of professional and personal contacts to reduce expenses. A family friend did the architectural plans and the practice hired its own general contractors. As for equipment and other necessary office items, Farris says, "We bought a bunch of stuff on Craigslist." In fact, the 2,500-sq.-ft. building was completed for less than $100 per sq. ft.

>Now, Farris has a new insurance agent with whom he stays in contact, but he doesn't foresee any potential problems.

"We now have a building that will last another 100 years," he says. Though he again acknowledges a fire's toll.

"It's always a bummer," he laments. "Insurance will cover some things, but there are other things it won't."