One minute Rich Abramo was working on a job site as usual, the next he was watching the windows of his work van explode in a fire that would destroy $19,000 worth of his wood flooring equipment.
“I smelled something, came outside and saw the fires coming up from underneath the dashboard,” recalls Abramo, who owns and operates Mansfield Center, Conn.-based Abramo Hardwood Flooring. After telling the homeowner to call 911, Abramo sprang into action to put out the fire, but the homeowner’s hose wasn’t working right. When he attempted to get closer to the van, the immense heat burnt his forehead, a wound that would blister in the days after the Sept. 25 incident.
“As soon as it hit the seats, there was no stopping it,” he says of the fire. "I just sat there and watched it burn in awe thinking, ‘This is just nuts.’"
Abramo believes the fire was the result of an electrical wiring issue with the 2004 Chevy Express 3500, a model he has since discovered had been recalled. Abramo says he never leaves stain rags or dust in his work vehicles, knowing their potential to cause fires.
“It was a fluke,” he says of the fire. “The dashboard melted. Even the steering wheel fell off it got so hot.”
The van was parked next to the customer’s garage. “The scary thing was she had two Jaguars sitting in her garage,” Abramo says. Fortunately, the fires didn’t make it to the expensive vehicles, although it did destroy the driveway and melt some of the siding off the garage.
"The client was great,” says Abramo, who knew the client before the job. “She's like, 'Rich, we've been through a bunch of stuff, you and I … this is nothing. Look at it this way, I'm getting a new driveway and new siding.'”
A few days after the fire, Abramo posted about the incident on Hardwood Floor Masters, a Facebook group for hardwood flooring professionals, where he says he also received an outpouring of support.
“I had literally a guy from Pennsylvania and a guy from Florida say, 'Rich, whatever you need, let us know and we'll ship it up to you.' And I was just blown away,” he says. His vendor also called him the day after and said he would start preparing a list of equipment to replace what he lost, which was everything except his Hummel and an edger.
Abramo’s vehicle insurance was able to cover the cost of the van, and he made a successful claim on his business insurance for the equipment that was lost, as well.
“The guy that did my claim actually used to do hardwood floors, so that helped,” Abramo chuckles.
He was up and running three days after the fire, and his burns have since healed. He has also purchased a new van and replaced almost all of the lost equipment.
"It was quite the wild ride,” Abramo says. "I can't stress enough, the outpouring from the flooring community was unbelievable.”
Since the incident, Abramo says he is planning to invest in fire bombs, which can be tossed into fires from a distance to put them out.
"I'll be investing in a couple of those, and I am going to put a big fire extinguisher in the truck just to cover everything,” he says.