Monthly Matters
Lessons Learned from the Fire @ 707 Arbor Pkwy
Posted on October 30, 2023 6:00 AM by Wayne Helgeson
Lessons pertaining to the Arbor Grove HOA:
1.  First and foremost, let’s never have a fire!
2.  Have in-depth knowledge as to how your unit was originally built (specifically, which options were taken).                 These are necessary to ensure the unit is built back to its original design. Some examples:
a.     Was there a walk-up attic?
b.     Did the unit have a fireplace, and if so, what type?
c.      Was there a patio, and if so, how big, and what amenities (fence)?
d.     What additional options were taken pertaining to the actual building (additional electrical outlets,                fireplace hearth, modifications to walls, etc.?
3.  We were fortunate to have several extremely knowledgeable craftsmen and industry professionals here in Arbor Grove who were instrumental in assuring the building was rebuilt according to prevailing regulations and codes.  Those who provided technical oversight were Rich Allers, Rick Balthazar, Barry Gadbois, and Mike Magruder.  We owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts and expertise. In the future, we will need to have someone closely monitor the General Contractor and subs to ensure the building is rebuilt according to Arbor Grove requirements.  Experience is a great teacher. Arbor Grove HOA is responsible for a rebuild.  General Contractor questions must be directed only to whomever the Board decides will oversee the project.
4.  We (Arbor Grove HOA) will need to be more proactive on issues resulting from the fire. For example, we made arrangements with Logan (our snow removal contractor) to clear debris from the driveways ourselves and charged it directly to the insurance company.  If the General Contractor had handled this transaction, there would have been an additional 20% mark-up to the cost!
5. When the electrical wiring for the unit was completed, the wires were not connected to anything, and there was no way to test them to ensure that they were correctly installed.  The General Contractor said that they didn’t put the circuit breakers in and connect the wires as that would have left “live” wires that were not terminated at the user end (no appliances or electrical devices were installed, as that is the unit owner's responsibility).  In this instance, we should have required them to terminate the wires to the circuit breakers and not connect the live feeds.  This would have meant the circuit panel could have been labeled, and the wiring could have been tested. Again, experience is a great teacher.  
Lessons pertaining to the residents:
1.    Fire Safety is Critical! Our common goal is to never, ever have a fire!
2.     Our requirement that each resident have at least $500 thousand dollars in liability insurance is probably not enough!  In this example, the fire started in one unit, but all four units were damaged.  If the insurance companies, when finalizing the claim, assess the cost of damages to one unit only, a claim will most likely exceed $500,000.  Then, you are potentially looking at personal responsibility above and beyond your insurance coverage. The board is well aware of what has been spent thus far, and $500,000 will most likely not be adequate. Residents should consider reviewing the amount of liability insurance they have to ensure they are covered for such catastrophic events.
3.     “Loss of Use” on residential insurance policies should be reviewed with your insurance agent to determine whether you have sufficient funding to afford accommodations while out of your unit.  In this case, one unit was not occupied for at least three months.  It was a bit of a shock to see how long it took for smoke mitigation on the adjoining units.  One unit had minimal exposure as it was furthest from the fire.  One unit had considerable smoke exposure that required a lengthy time to mitigate.  The third unit had additional issues as the fire spread to the roof of this unit.  There was significant water damage to the master bedroom, resulting in what essentially is a complete remodel of the room as well as all the smoke mitigation issues.
4.     “Loss Assessment”.  The amount you have on your insurance policy for Loss Assessment essentially applies only to insured instances.  An example would be if we were hit with a tornado and had to replace the roofs on all or most of the buildings; if our insurance coverage were not sufficient to cover it all, we would have to apply an assessment to all residents and your loss assessment would come into play.  It would also apply when you have a fire, and we had to rebuild your unit.  While we have sufficient insurance to cover the event, we have a deductible of $2500.00, which we would assess to you (not everyone).  Again, you could recover this from your loss assessment if you have enough.  To clarify, if the HOA decided that we wanted a larger swimming pool and decided to go ahead and build it by assessing each unit (this would require a vote of all residents, with 67% being in favor), your loss assessment would not cover such an event.
5.     Fire extinguisher.  Each unit should consider acquiring at least one fire extinguisher and keep it where it can be easily accessed.  Should a fire break out in your unit, a proper fire extinguisher is essential, and using just water to extinguish a fire where electric devices are located can result in disastrous issues.  Check out online what happens if you throw water on a candle fire. It’s crazy. Our most recent fire may have been an instance of electricity and water.
6.     If you have a fire, call 911 and let them know you’ve had a fire. Ask them to come and check things out. The firefighters are happy to come to your home and make a safety determination. They would much rather do that than come back to fight an active fire.
7.     Open windows will create drafts that feed a fire if you have a fire in your unit and can safely take time to close doors and windows – again, stressing if it is safe only.  If you have an active fire and need to escape, your life is most important! When you are away and travel, close your interior doors; again, it helps as far as containing a fire.
8.     Knox boxes.  While this was not an issue in this fire, everyone should consider having a Knox box installed by the Bourbonnais Fire Protection District.  This applies especially if you live alone or are away from your unit for any time.  Unfortunately, we have had a recent experience where Bourbonnais Police and Fire had to break into a unit with no Knox box for a well check. Installing a Knox box is a safe means of ensuring the fire department can access your unit in an emergency.  If you are interested in obtaining a Knox Box, you can contact the Bourbonnais Fire Department at 815/935-9670.
In summary, every resident is encouraged to speak with their insurance agent to determine if their insurance is sufficient.  Be aware that if your unit has any catastrophe, whether a fire, water pipe bursts or even an infestation of rodents or other critters, you can be held liable if it spreads to the other units.
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