by Angela Duea, LMS Communication Manager
The fire began in a condominium building’s garage at 3 a.m., and soon engulfed four condos in a Schaumburg community. The families, and their pets, all escaped safely, and the Schaumburg fire department successfully put out the fire, but for those families, everything they owned had been destroyed and damaged. Smoke and steam damage in the walls and carpets, buckling roofs and pipe damage displaced eight families in total. A tragedy like this is everyone’s nightmare, but as professionals from many fields worked to handle the emergency, a new story emerged from a fire: a story of neighbors, local businesses, property managers and first responders pulling together to care for families in need.
Within minutes of the alarm, the fire department had arrived with workers from Red Cross. The Association’s Board President called the LMS emergency line, and on-call Property Manager Elizabeth Mosier-Ortman assured her that LMS would be on the scene shortly. The president opened the clubhouse as a place to welcome and console the families, some of whom escaped in pajamas or with whatever shoes they could snatch on their way out.
Michelle Morse, the community’s Property Manager, and Jessica Towles, LMS Director of Property Management and Business Strategy, arrived and began connecting with the residents. “There was a lot of handholding,” Towles said. “These people just lost everything they owned and the shock was tremendous. What they needed most was our comfort and assurance that we would help them put their lives back together.”
“The response from the community was incredible,” added Morse. “Neighbors invited the people burned out of their own homes to use their bathrooms and store possessions in their garages. They gave them jackets and water bottles. One neighbor went to McDonald’s to pick up food and coffee for the families.”
The Red Cross offered folders of information on resources for help, including advice on putting temporary holds on their cable bills and locating resources for help. As residents felt ready to talk, Ms. Towles explained how insurance would cover their damages and how the process would happen. She worked with Ms. Mosier-Ortman to look up LMS records on their insurance policies to start the owners’ claims process.
Meanwhile, the staff at the local Maggiano’s restaurant had just begun their day. Andi Tuchten, the restaurant’s Banquet Sales Manager, told a co-worker about the fire she heard about on the news that morning. The restaurant decided to help. They called the Schaumburg Fire Department to get details about the displaced families, and then brought gift cards and large boxes of hot meals to each of them. “One woman had tears running down her face,” Tuchten said. “She literally couldn’t thank us enough for our kindness to her and her kids.”
The Fire Department was able to put the fire out, but four condos were uninhabitable and the rest of the building had smoke and water damage. The remediation company, Giertsen, began covering the roof and boarding up the holes in the building while Morse coordinated vendors and volunteers on the scene.
The Red Cross and Lieberman staff began to determine the needs of the people. They learned that the children were starting school in two days – and all their school supplies were destroyed. One teenager was worried because all her lacrosse team equipment was gone, also.
While the Red Cross gave residents pre-loaded debit cards to cover basic expenses until the insurance claims paid out, Towles headed to Dick’s Sporting Goods. “I walked into Dick’s and said, ‘I don’t know anything about lacrosse, but I need to buy a complete set of equipment,’” she laughed. “The guy said, ‘You’re getting started late, aren’t you?’ So I explained what happened.” The company paid for the equipment and gave her a 25% discount on the lacrosse cleated shoes.
Across town, Mosier-Ortman met with a Target manager who offered free hygiene supplies and a discount on school supplies for all the kids. Mosier-Ortman also posted a message on her personal Facebook page asking for donations from the community, then collected the boxes and delivered them to the hotels where the people were staying.
“Lieberman and some of our vendors made a cash donation. LMS employees and neighbors donated household items they had just lost,” said Mosier-Ortman. “It was like the community was all saying, ‘We’ll take care of you.’”
Towles added, “Towards the end of the afternoon, a father and his 20-year-old son approached us in distress.” The son had Down’s syndrome and was crying that his hockey equipment was still in the home. While the man calmed his son, she decided to step through the rubble in the condo to find his beloved hockey bag. When she brought it out, he was ecstatic.
“Then he said, ‘I miss my home. I want my home.’” Towles said, her eyes tearing up. “And I said, honey, that’s why we’re all here. We’re going to fix it up for you as good as new.”
“I think that’s really the heart of what we do.”
Lieberman is a leading Chicago Property Management Company, serving condo, HOA and co-op communities.