Constance Waisanen had been doing investment and retirement planning for the Astoria branch of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans at #10 6th St since 2006. A month and a half before the fire, Matt Crichton was hired on at Thrivent. Waisanen and Crichton miss the “funky historical flavor and the feeling of camaraderie,” that existed at #10 6th St. “There was a sense of family between the tenants,” says Waisanen, who first learned of the fire via Facebook.
“I was just getting ready to go to bed and I clicked on Facebook . A friend’s son had just posted an entry saying that the Cannery Café was on fire and so I posted back,‘Tell me more, my office is next door!’ His mother was with him and she immediately called me. While we were talking she said she could see smoke coming out of our building.”
Crichton, who lives on the south slope of Astoria received a call from a friend around midnight. “She had to tell me it was on fire five times because it didn’t seem real,” he said. “Coming over the hill, I saw a bright yellow-orange ball of fire. I didn’t like that and I actually turned off and parked just to watch it from afar before I went down to the scene.”
Nearly everything in the Thrivent office was destroyed. However, all of the company’s files had been backed up to an offsite single server. Waisanen says that she was lucky and had taken her work computer home with her, but “Even if I hadn’t, I would have been able to call the company and they would have overnighted me a computer with all of my files on it. When you work in the financial world you really need to have that kind of security.”
Still, not much was left for them to recover. “I had a nativity set that my mother had bought me in Mexico. I found all the figures from it except for baby Jesus.”
“And we looked and looked and looked for baby Jesus,” adds Crichton.
“We dug through the ashes pretty deep, but we didn’t find him. ‘He has risen,’ went through my mind,” said Waisanen with a grin.
Unfortunately, the fire destroyed Waisanen’s own beautiful art quilts which hung on the office walls. “Virtually everyone’s first response was: ‘Your quilts are gone,’ because that’s what they remember from being in my office.”
Crichton, who had recently returned from a stint in the Peace Corps, lost souvenirs from Samoa, where he taught High School. “I lost my hardwood, hand carved ‘ava’ bowl and my souve- nir war clubs! But that just gives me an excuse to go back to Samoa,” he said.
Both Waisanen and Crichton were touched by the outpouring of condolences from the community at large as well as customers and colleagues who called to the company’s national headquarters from Longview and Tillamook. “Be- cause we are a faith-based company there was a lot of prayer going out for us,” said Waisanen.
For two months after the fire, Thrivent operated in space lent to them by the congregation at First Lutheran Church in Astoria. They have since relocated to The Red Building at 20 Basin St. Several other financial offices displaced by the fire have also resettled there, “it’s a financial Mecca now,” quips Waisanen who thinks that the new office is a far better fit for their needs. The Thrivent office was at the point of needing to expand, and the fire proved to be the impetus to make the jump.
“It wasn’t bad timing, it just wasn’t the best way to do it,” said Waisanen. “At least we didn’t have to move any furniture! It feels good to have a firm base of operations now and it’s nice to have the sound of the water lapping underneath us again.”
Constance Waisanen is the Financial Consultant for the Astoria branch of Thrivent.
Matt Crichton is a Financial Associate at Thrivent.
With more than 30 employees at their #10 6th Street location, Clatsop Behavioral Health (CBH) was the largest tenant of the building, occupying much of the first floor. Staff member Sumuer Watkins had worked in #10 since CBH moved there in 1997. “When you’ve been in a place for that many years, it feels like home.” She fondly recalls staff potlucks in the conference room, counting sea lions in the Columbia River as she walked down the windowed hallway, and visits from Charlie the seagull who would rap on the window when he wanted food.
June Longway misses her office in #10 6th Street. “I had a wonderful view, right on the water, looking across at the mountains in Washington.” She loved the convenience and friendliness of the Lazy Spoon Café and being able to easily consult with other therapists who worked in the historic building.
Everything changed on December 16 when fire broke out in the Cannery Café. Late that night, Watkins was woken by a call from her brother who is a volunteer with the Warrenton Fire Department. By the time she and her husband had arrived at the fire, #10 6th Street was burning.
Watkins is grateful for the actions of emergency workers at the scene. “The police and fire personnel were so amazing. They came and found us, told us they had pulled some of our items out of the building, helped us load it into the back of my husband’s truck. I was so impressed with them because they were actually trying to save what they could of ours, knowing that it was very important and that it was confidential information. They kept watch on everything, policemen were guarding it until we got there.”
Unfortunately, they were able to remove only a fraction of the records from CBH before it became too dangerous to enter the building. Most client records were stored in a file room, which was windowless and locked. Later it was found that the paper records in the file room had not burned and were salvageable.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, CBH set up a temporary workspace in their Open Door location, just around the corner from #10. They contacted all clients within 48 hours of the fire and were able to start seeing patients again within a week. Just after Christmas, CBH moved into four separate suites in the Park Medical Building in Astoria. According to Watkins, it was a scramble, ordering enough computers, furniture, and office supplies for 30 staff members. “It was $250 for staplers; it was crazy, the amount of office supplies we needed. Essentially, we were working off of TV trays and card tables. It took about a month for us to feel like an office again.”
Getting used to the new workspace has been an adjustment for CBH staff members. Finding space for 30 individual offices under one roof was nearly impossible in a necessarily short time-frame. Moving into four different suites scattered throughout the Park Building was a compromise. Both Watkins and Longway say that they feel more isolated in the new space, that there is some disconnect between employees who had felt like family before the fire. There are actually more group rooms available than at #10 6th Street, but none is large enough to comfortably hold the entire CBH staff.
There are, however, advantages in having four separate waiting areas. Longway says, “It’s a little calmer because there’s not as many people in one waiting room. Children are separate from adults, and the Drug and Alcohol patients have more privacy in their own space. The receptionists are more relaxed because they aren’t dealing with multiple groups plus individual clients simultaneously.”
The fire has been a springboard for positive changes in the operations of CBH.
Prior to the fire, the agency was just beginning the transition from paper to electronic medical records. Fortunately some of the earliest files to be converted contained client demographic information, which enabled the immediate recovery (from a remote server) of client contacts and caseloads. “We are fully computerized now,” says Longway. “The prescribers were already us- ing Infoscribe, so we had all the information on everybody’s medications. We made sure nobody ran out. It could have been much worse.”The forcibly accelerated switch to electronic records has been difficult for CBH staff, but is already paying off in easier accessibility. (Consider the difference between manually flipping through a handwritten paper file that you first have to physically remove from a filing system or using search parameters on an electronic database to extract certain information.) The new electronic medical records are fireproof. All records are backed up on a server in New York City.
In the long run, the devastating #10 6th Street fire may be the catalyst for many positive changes in the lives of former building tenants. Emotions and memories, however, run deep. Lives have been changed forever.
“Fire is devastating.” – June Longway
“It was very strange when I got home from the fire. I looked around at everything and thought: if I lost this, how would I feel? I now look at everything like this. It gives you a new perspec- tive, it makes you appreciate what you have, but you also know that you can get by without It.” – Sumuer Watkins
Sumuer Watkins is the Chief Operations Officer for Clatsop Behavioral Health
June Longway, P.M.H.N.P., B.C. is the Medical Director for Clatsop Behavioral Health.
Gretchen Mather, the self-employed owner/ operator of a small accounting business, was a tenant at #10 6th Street for four years before the fire, but she had moved to a new office within the building six months earlier. “I had just put my sign on the door.”
When #10 burned two weeks before the start of tax season, Mather didn’t have time to look for a new office. She immediately set up operations at her home and began working. “I did all my payroll not knowing whether I had files or not. I did my quarterlies and recreated all that data or I had my clients recreate the information for me because I didn’t know what, if anything, would be left in the building.”
During the, the roof of #10 collapsed directly into Mather’s office. Firemen postulated that her filing cabinets were gone and had probably evaporated from intense heat. When she was finally able to get into her ruined office weeks later, she could see the cabinets trapped under debris from the fallen roof. Remarkably, with the help of a friend, Mather was able to lift chunks of the roof off of her file cabinets and was able to recover 90% of her records from what was the most devastated part of the building. Unfortu- nately by that time, she had already been forced to duplicate a lot of that information.
Miraculously, Mather discovered that she had papers sitting on top of her filing cabinets that weren’t even burned. However, all of her personal photographs including artwork by her deceased aunt, Alaskan artist Barbara Stanbaugh, were destroyed. By the time Mather was able to get in to her office six weeks after the fire, the hard drive on her office computer was ruined. She had backed up her files online, only to discover after the fire that data from certain accounting software she uses is considered proprietary and was not saved after all. To say the least, this was a frustrating experience for her. Like many of the former tenants of #10, Mather feels that if she had been let in earlier, more of her belongings may have been retrievable. “Had I had access early on, I probably would have my hard drive because sitting exposed to the weather for so long is what did it in.”
All of Mather’s rescued paper files are infused with toxic smoke pollution. This has made using at the files she did rescue treacherous. “I made myself sick trying to go through the files looking for stuff. I had to wear gloves and a mask to be able to touch them because I got very ill. So did the people who tore the computers apart.”
Still, Mather says, when it comes to her business, she’s trying to think of the positive and not the negative. “How can I make it better? Why put it back the way it was? Paperless is probably the way I’m going to go.” Of the difficulties, she says, “you overcome because you have a self-employed mentality. When you are an employee, there are other people to handle the situation.”
After a particularly grueling return wasn’t going right, Mather hit a wall. “It was 9 o clock at night and I started bawling and my daughter came in and saw me and said; ‘Mom you just have to stop that and you have to keep going,’ I think my kids will take away from this experience the lesson that you can get through anything.”
Last year, Mather’s father also lost his home to a fire. “I had just gotten all of his bank records and we had put them all in my office and then my office burnt down so I had to go back to the bank again and ask them for his records all over and they were like, ‘You have to be joking!’ ”
Mather says that the fire has helped to draw herself and her father closer together. “Silly things happen, like you turn around and don’t have a paperclip or that stupid stamp. I recognized that this was exactly what my father went through.
Gretchen B. Mather, C.P.A. is sole proprietor of an accounting business.
Pam Christensen, a psychotherapist in private practice, had been working in #10 6th Street for about a year and a half before the
fire. She misses the daily interaction she had with other therapists in the building. “I really enjoyed running into colleagues in the hall. I especially enjoyed times when Dr. Daryl Birney would come sit in my office and we’d just talk,” she said.
On the night of the fire, Christensen recalled; “I was sleeping when the phone rang and didn’t recognize the number so I didn’t pick up,” on the other end was a colleague, who thankfully left a message telling her that #10 was on fire. At that point, the flames were still far from Christensen’s office. She listened to the voice mail and tried to go back to sleep.
“It really didn’t register,” she says, but it worked on her mind enough that sleep became impossible. She got up and drove to #10. “I never had seen a fire that big.”
She called a friend who worked at Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare and the two met up at the scene.
“I think that helped me, we sat together and watched it burn from about three in the morning until about nine so we had a lot of time to talk, and process, and plan and strategize. We’d drive around and then we’d go back and look at it again and by 8 a.m. I had another space rented in the Spexarth Building.”
Christensen’s immediate challenge was to figure out the status of her court records during the weeks following the fire when tenants were not allowed back into the building. “The clerks at the courthouse were amazing in terms of making photocopies of stacks and stacks of records. A lot of those records were salvageable, but we didn’t know that at the time.” (Christensen has a private practice and also does work for Clatsop County probation counseling).
The fire’s emotional toll took a few weeks to sink in, but the loss sparked Christensen to make sweeping changes in the way she operates her business. Realizing she needed to expand and delegate, she hired a new assistant to take care of clerical work, freeing up more time to see clients. She also contracted with another therapist who could share in the work Christensen provides for the courts.
“It was the small things after the fire that I felt really irritated about. I locked my self out of my new office three or four times because it had a funny handle. My favorite black blazer hung on the back of my office door in #10 and I forget that and go to my closet to look for it, and it’s no longer there. None of these things are rocket science, but being a creature of habit and a highly-scheduled person, these kind of disrup- tions really stuck with me for weeks afterwards.”
However, Christensen says she knew from the very beginning that good things would eventually result from this very bad situation. “What came up for me was a bigger piece about the process of ageing. As we age we don’t remember everything and I’ve been someone who pretty much always remembers things, but not having my records I realized I didn’t remember and I couldn’t look it up. It was kind of a gift to get in touch with how it’s going to feel to not have access to all that stuff. At some point, I’ll have to look at a picture or ask a friend.”
Pamela Christensen, MA is a professional counselor.
Since 2007, Ann Lederer has worked for the Clatsop County Court Appointed Special Advocates for children (CASA) program. CASA had a long tenant history in # 10 6th Street prior to the fire. “I loved that building,” says Lederer, “there was something about being over the water and seeing the trolley go by. I was thankful for it every day, it’s irreplaceable.”
Lederer received a call from a CASA volunteer the night the fire broke out. “He suggested I look out of the window of my home. I did, and I could see flames. I immediately threw on some clothes and went down to the fire.” Lederer says she felt compelled to go to the scene and stand with other #10 tenants there. “We were just stunned and watching,” she recalled.
Chief amongst Lederer’s worries were her client files, which contain sensitive and confidential information. Were they secure? Could they be retrieved? When? Her second thought was about the toy donations that were wrapped and ready to go for a Christmas party the non-profit would be hosting for foster children. Eventually, CASA’s client files were salvaged and were legible but considerably smoke damaged. Nonetheless, Lederer was able to secure and dispose of them properly.
Immediately after the fire community members provided an amazing response in the form of donations. “Within 24 hours we replaced all the toys,” said Lederer who continued to deal with a huge flood of inquiries from those who wanted to know how they too could donate.
One of the lingering challenges faced by for- mer #10 tenants has been complicated insurance liability debates that are ongoing. Many tenants await partial rent refunds as the fire occurred halfway through the month. “I’m sure they are doing their best, but for a small non-profit, a couple of weeks worth of rent reimbursement is significant,” Lederer said.
Going into the building weeks after the fire was emotionally hard for Lederer. “It’s an unreal experience to go someplace that you’ve been every single day for years and see it transformed into something so sad.” While she did lose per- sonal items in the fire; a painting by local artist Darren Orange and years worth of Garden Tour posters from CASA fundraisers, directors from other local CASA programs reached out, donating artwork for the new space.
Ultimately, the fire forced Lederer “to think about the kind of work we do and about the kids who we work with. These are kids who leave home with maybe a trash bag full of their belongings,” she said.
“It really puts everything in perspective.”
“The silver lining is that we are improving rather than just recreating the old system. I took the situation as an opportunity to think about the ways in which we had operated. I’m in the process of changing from settled patterns and ways of doing things to the new ways we receive and process information.”
CASA’s new home is in Suite 401 of the Spexarth Building, 818 Commercial St. The City of Astoria had had an option on the space, but after the fire, decided to make it available to busi- nesses affected by the disaster. The Spexarth’s location on a diagonal from the courthouse is convenient for CASA staff and volunteers who may be required at court hearings as often as four or five times on a given work day.
Ann Lederer is Executive Director of Clatsop County CASA.
When Catastrophe Happens, It
Often Opens The Door For
New Business Relationships.
Join us in the collective celebration of the new
office location for five businesses that have
relocated from the #10 Sixth Street to
the Red Building office suites at:
20 Basin Street Astoria, Or.
The newly relocated offices of:
Brown Financial Group
Dr. Daryl Birney
Thrivent Financial Group
Eagle Financial Group
Dan Van Thiel Attorney at Law
Rosemary Berdine Psy. D
Open House at the Red Building
Professional office suites.
We invite you to explore and get acquainted
with our new offices take a mini tour, have a
glass of wine and enjoy some appetizers.
Where: Red Building Professional Office Suites
Red Building 20 Basin Street Astoria, Or.
When: April 27th 2011 Time 5:00-7:00 pm.