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Great Neck Co-op Survives Fire From a Lightning Strike

Bill Morris in Bricks & Bucks on August 3, 2022

Great Neck, Long Island

Fire, lightning strike, public adjuster, co-op board, communication.

Smoke from the fire (left), a burnt-out transformer (top right) and new transformers (pictures courtesy of Einsidler Management).

Aug. 3, 2022

It has been a summer of vicious weather all over the planet. Wildfires in California. Flooding in Yellowstone National Park and Kentucky. Blistering heat waves in Europe and India. And now, closer to home, a freak thunderstorm that sent lightning crackling into underground transformers, igniting a fire that forced the evacuation of a co-op in Great Neck. Luckily, no one was injured or killed.

The lightning struck in mid-afternoon on July 25 and sent a charge into the basement transformers at the 42-unit luxury co-op at 21 Chapel Pl. in Great Neck. The transformers are owned by the utility Public Service Gas & Electric (PSGE), which promptly sent technicians to the scene.

“As the managing agent, we also went to the scene immediately,” says Don Einsidler, president of Einsidler Management, who notes that the blaze was confined to the basement and did not spread into apartments in the three-story brick building. “We had to evacuate everyone from the building. The live-in super, Jack Nilaj, helped evacuate elderly people in wheelchairs, and residents were able to congregate in the rec room of the co-op across the street.”

The building remained off-limits to residents overnight. “People were devastated,” Einsidler says. “Some went to stay with family. The mayor called in the Red Cross, which brought food and vouchers for people to spend the night in hotels. A nursing home brought in food and water. It was quite a scene.”

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Einsidler had brought in an electrician and a public adjuster to handle the insurance claim, and by evening they were allowed to enter the building to begin assessing the damage and the scope of the insurance claim.

“There’s never a standard fire, and fire claims can be tricky,” Einsidler says. “The damage isn’t always apparent. A public adjuster brings in a contractor to determine what they think should be covered by the insurance policy, and then they negotiate with the insurance carrier. By bringing in a contractor at this early stage, we demonstrate to the insurance company that we’re doing everything to keep it from becoming a bigger claim.”

The contractor, 4 Seasons Fire Restoration, addressed minor water damage in the lobby, washed wallpaper, ran air scrubbers to rid the building of residual smoke and soot. 

The morning after the fire, PSEG brought in a portable generator that was able to power the entire building. By evening the building had full power, and shareholders were able to return to their homes. By Friday, four days after the fire, PSEG crews had installed new transformers. Einsidler also brought in elevator and boiler specialists to inspect those systems and make sure they were operable and safe.

In times of crisis like this, Einsidler and other property managers agree, communication with residents is a top priority — the ability to let them know what happened, and why, and what comes next. “It’s important to have a good communication system in place,” Einsidler says. “We sent a robo call and an email blast right away, but some people hadn’t provided their contact information. Since the fire, we’ve asked everybody to update their info.”

Renee Shulman, president of the seven-member co-op board, agrees that in-house communication needs to improve. “That was a problem,” she says. “By the time some people got the news about the fire, it was pretty late. We try to get people to give us their email and cell phone number, but they don’t always do it. We’re going to figure out how to correct that.”

If lightning strikes twice, Shulman wants the co-op to be ready.

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS — PROPERTY MANAGER: Einsidler Management. CONTRACTOR: 4 Seasons Fire Restoration. PUBLIC ADJUSTER: Affiliated Adjustment.

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