The message was calm, but firm: Weve decided to evacuate the building. Several of us smell smoke, and there are police officers in the building. It was all we needed to hear.
As the SBN editorial staff filed quietly out of our publishers office and down the back stairs of the suburban Cleveland office building that housed our company headquarters, we heard fire engines scream to a halt. From outside, we could smell the pungent smoke, which drifted in and out of view as the wind changed directions. There were reports of a thick, sooty cloud billowing out the front doors. Rumors quickly took hold that a construction project in the basement had gone amok and sparked the fire.
The realization by both our publisher and CEO that property damage might be imminent sent them running back into the smoldering building to retrieve items such as day planners and briefcases left behind by our staff. It was a foolish move, given the unknown intensity and location of the fire, and it terrified our Columbus staff writer Joan Slattery Wall, who once worked as a police and fire reporter for the daily newspaper in Lancaster. She knew all too well the hideous consequences such a well-intentioned move can bring.
The good news is that our two leaders emerged safely, and though we were unable to return to the building for several hours because of the lingering, potentially dangerous fumes, the fire was quickly doused and our second-floor offices escaped unscathed.
We were fortunate. I shudder to think what might have happened if the fire had worked its way up another level or two, destroying valuable operational, accounting and circulation records; wiping out entire hard drives of editorial work and advertising layouts; crippling our already overworked production department, which has to keep an insanely tight schedule to churn out nine publications each month. Then there would have been the insurance headachesand the effort to get up and running again.
Greg Hopkins and Jim Darfus know what thats like. These Central Ohio business owners werent as lucky as SBN. Both know the agony of watching a business burn downand the struggle involved in rebuilding.
Their stories, featured in this months cover piece, couldnt have been easy to share. In fact, some tears were shed during the interviews. Yet, both agreed to relive their memories so others could learn from their experiences. Dont let them down.
As you read Joans article, Refusing to go down in flames, youll feel the grief, the aggravation and even the regret of these two businessmen. Dont let their words stop there. Take action. After our close call with disaster in the Cleveland office, I know it can happen to us. It happens to hundreds of Ohio business-owners each yearmany of whom are improperly insured. Dont think it cant happen to you. It can. Are you ready?
Nancy Byron, editor of SBN Columbus, welcomes your comments by fax at 842-6093 or by e-mail at email@example.com.