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Community pulls together after fire

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Extensive damage: people inspect the site of Thursday’s devastating fire (Photograph by Sideya Dill)

Bermuda did what it does best — pulling together yesterday in face of adversity following the fire that all but destroyed one building and damaged several others.

Messages of support poured out on social media, fundraising initiatives sprang into action and businesses took in those employees who found themselves with no offices left to work in.

A community effort prevailed as owners and staff sought to relocate and assess the damage incurred.

Michael Branco, chief executive officer at Fireminds Technology Solutions and landlord of Ideation House on Pitt’s Bay Road, invited Bermuda Executive Services, Atlantic Caregiving and Island Bargains — all part of Queen Management Services — to come and work from his building as theirs had been destroyed in the blaze.

Dawn Zuill, owner of Queen Management Services, told The Royal Gazette: “Our location is our most pressing matter. Fireminds and Waterfront Properties generously gave us some space at one of their buildings on the waterfront for two days.

“We have had an extremely kind offer from another business for some more medium term space — we are still in the process of wrapping up the final details on that.

“They are not the only ones who have offered to give help to us. It is so heartening and affirming to see how Bermudians and the Bermuda community reach out to help people when they are in difficulty. We have been part of helping other people in the past and now we are facing our challenges. It is unbelievable to experience. If there is a silver lining in all of this it is that Bermuda is a wonderful, giving community for people in need.”

As news began to emerge that Chewstick, which was putting the final touches to two years of renovations following a tireless fundraising drive only to have it burn down, the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society quickly turned its youth open mic night, Yoot Hoot, into a fundraiser for the arts charity.

As soon as the hostess at the BMDS event, Emily Ross, heard the news she reached out to her co-host Charles Doyle to say “we’ve got to do something for ‘Chew’ tonight, we can’t just go up without acknowledging this”. Mr Doyle messaged her back to say he was just about to suggest the same thing. Ms Ross said: “Chewstick and BMDS both mean a lot to us personally. Chew only really got up and running this month.

“We’ve seen how hard everyone at Chew had worked on the space all year, all the challenges they’ve come up against ... and now to be burnt to the ground just when everything was coming together. We were all heartbroken.

“I went to get in contact with [event organiser] Chris Broadhurst about a fundraiser and found my inbox was full of messages from members of BMDS brainstorming how to help. You don’t have to be a part of the arts community to see how painful this situation is, but I think the arts community has a special understanding of what Chewstick means ... what the Hub meant.

“I’ve seen first-hand the passion Chewstick’s founders and members have for not only furthering creative arts on the island (especially in the form of outreach to at-risk youth), but fostering a sense of community, connectivity and communication between historically divided groups of people.

“Chewstick and BMDS are like a kind of home for their members — safe spaces where art in all forms can be celebrated. To lose that home ... it was easy for the BMDS community to understand how devastating that is.”

Alvin Minglana, chief financial officer at Fireminds, works out of a separate office to Ideation but on finding that his Reid Street location was damaged by smoke he and his colleagues switched to disaster recovery mode and headed straight to Mr Branco’s location on Pitt’s Bay Road. With the help of the technical team at Ideation House, they managed to offer a ceaseless service to its customers.

Mr Minglana recalled: “Our company has a WhatsApp group and when I woke up at about 6.30am I already had 50 or 60 messages with the message ‘fire’. We have a Disaster Recovery plan prepared and I am one of the team leaders. Automatically we knew what the plan was. Everybody went to a remote site — the data centre at Ideation House. All of our Bermuda staff were there before 7.30 in the morning to start working. We are a technology company so we make sure all our servers were operational, all our telephone lines are operational.

“Even before 9am office hours we were all set up — all our DR plans working as normal. We host some of our clients’ data in our facility so we made sure that everything was intact. There was no disruption. I only joined the company about two months ago. I was so impressed.

“Mike was kind enough to open up our building to let access to the Bermuda Fire Service rescue team — they used our floors just to pump in water.

“We also do Premier Tickets. There was no disruption there and our overseas offices kicked into high gear as well. Before Bermuda Executive Services came to our site, the technical guys hooked up the connection for internet, for servers, for telephone and that is why they were up and running. They are not even our client.

“We were calling and coordinating with BMDS to help out with Chewstick. I cannot take credit because I just joined the company but witnessing it first-hand I have to give credit to the team.”

The team at Fireminds - pictured centre front is chief executive officer Michael Branco and third from left, chief financial officer Alvin Minglana.
Yoot Hoot fundraiser for Chewstick. Pictured front, second from left is hostess Emily Ross, pictured centre holding a bucket is Charles Doyle.
People looking at the aftermath of yesterday's fire (Photograph by Sideya Dill)