180s recovers quickly from fire damage to Baltimore office

A fire that began in a neighboring restaurant damaged the offices of 180s. But the company hasn’t skipped a beat thanks to efforts to protect computer equipment, as well as the hard work of its employees and property managers.
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At 10:45 a.m. on Oct. 5, Jay Wilkins looked through the front windows of the 180s office in downtown Baltimore and saw a wall of black smoke.

“I couldn’t see the street. It was just completely covered with smoke,” said Wilkins, COO of 180s, which manufactures cold-weather accessories (www.180s.com).

A fire that had begun in a restaurant kitchen next door was spreading, and the 42 employees of 180s quickly exited their building as seven fire trucks came roaring onto the scene.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be good when I saw one of the firemen pulling tools off the truck, like a saw,” Wilkins told SNEWS®.

Fortunately, the fire caused no injuries to 180s employees, and the company’s office in the historic E.J. Codd building -- as well as the restaurant -- survived the blaze. By 2:30 p.m., firemen allowed 180s personnel to re-enter the company’s offices, and by 4:30 p.m. that day, the company was once again operating.

Due to damage to the building from smoke and glass, 180s has had to move to another building temporarily, but the company has barely skipped a beat.

Within three days of the fire, 180s had relocated all employees to an office building just two blocks from the damaged structure, and since then, the company has trucked right along.

“We haven’t missed on delivery, and we haven’t been late with anything,” said Wilkins. “So, nothing was impacted from an operations standpoint, and we don’t anticipate any interruptions.”

Wilkins said the company was able to recover quickly partly because of precautions it had taken with its computer equipment. Also the managers of the burned property provided great help, and 180s employees really stepped up to keep the company on track.

According to Wilkins, the blaze began when flames breached the oven vent of a wood fire stove of Pazo Restaurant. Though smoke poured into the neighboring offices of 180s, it never reached the company’s computer servers. In September 2010, when 180s moved into the E.J. Codd building, it housed the servers in a sealed room with cooling units and no vents.

“There’s no outside venting coming in, so little to no smoke got into the room,” said Wilkins. As a result, the 180s IT system sustained no damage. After the fire, 180s was able to continue using the computer equipment in the damaged building, and the company never even had to relocate its servers. 

However, smoke contaminated the 180s office, and firemen had to break glass windows on the roof, which showered the office in broken glass.

Wilkins said that the property manager immediately found 180s alternate office space (photo - right) and also went to work repairing the E.J. Codd building, which was built in the 1800s, so that 180s could eventually move back in. “The property managers have been great,” said Wilkins, explaining that they quickly hired a restoration company to remove all of the office furniture that was covered in glass, and to filter the air and wipe down surfaces covered with soot.

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After the fire, it took a few days for 180s to move into its new office space, and in the meantime, employees worked from their homes to keep operations running smoothly. “We were running remotely as a company for three days,” said Wilkins. “The operations team was in constant contact with the warehouse making sure fulfillment occurred.”

Fortunately, 180s should be able to move back into the repaired building in about eight weeks. For now, Wilkins is just happy that no one was hurt and that 180s was able to stay on its feet during the last quarter of the year, when it does the majority of it business.

“We have to protect this part of our season,” said Wilkins, “or we could have issues that would damage the company.”

--Marcus Woolf

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