The Second Worst BEST Thing that Happened to Me

(or Lessons Learned from a House Fire)

Imagine going away on a trip, and coming back to this. . .

Brainlink Fire
Brainlink Fire

July 29, 2019 – Sharon and I are in Denver.  Kids are at home with my parents. 

10:45 p.m. – My phone rings–Internet is off at home and Wi-Fi offline.

10:46 p.m. – I call my younger daughter to see if Fios is offline again.  She says she smells smoke.  I ask her to wake up her grandfather and have him check.

10:40 p.m. – Dad confirms he smells smoke coming from my home office on the third floor.  Dad calls 911.

10:45 p.m. – Mom, dad, both kids are out of the house.  FDNY arrives.

11:00 p.m. – I call Jason Greenberg at Phoenix Adjusters to let him know we have a house fire.

4:00 a.m. – FDNY and investigators have left.  Neighbors offer help, vultures try to get dad to sign papers.  Thankfully, he refuses to sign anything.8:00 p.m. – Sharon and I arrive home from Denver. The living room ceiling has fallen in.  The kids’ bedroom has a giant hole where the ceiling used to be.

The house smells of nasty fumes, smoke, soot and something indescribably horrible.  A wet, shaggy nightmare scent full of wet carpets, soaked clothes, rotting books and a fridge full of groceries turned off for forty-eight hours.

Ugh. . .

The only clothes Sharon and I have are in the rollers we took on the trip.  The only clothes our daughters have are what’s in their go-bag; my mom and dad are left with just the clothes they were wearing.

At this point, data doesn’t matter.

Documents don’t matter.

401Ks don’t matter.

I’ve got to get my family out of this dangerous, toxic place we called home, and into a safer environment.

We grab the medicines, ready cash (you did learn from hurricane Sandy and start keeping emergency cash in a safe, accessible place, right?), pots, pans, favorite chai cups and hightail it to my sister’s house.  Thankfully, she and her husband are generous souls who took us in without notice, and turned their home over to us.

Fast forward one month to September 2019 . Sharon and the kids and I are living in a fabulous new apartment in Forest Hills.  For the first time in their entire lives, our daughters are living away from their grandparents.  And for the first time in our lives, Sharon and I are home alone. . . with two teenage daughters and each other.

To say we were stressed is an understatement.

The fire has forced mom and dad to live with my sister for the past six months; it forced Sharon and I to examine the nature of our marriage and the assumptions we lived by.  It required all of us to pare down our possessions (I will never buy another tie or braces again – I have too many!).

The fire opened discussions within the family about the importance of:

  • Family
  • Strong social networks
  • Excellent health insurance
  • Written wills
  • Emergency cash
  • Personal and business disaster recovery

The Unsung Superheroes

None of us could have survived this ordeal alone.  We needed a league of superheroes to help us succeed, like these:

Brainlink Heroes
Brainlink Heroes
  • Mom and Dad – Dad showed incredible strength on July 29th when he climbed three stories in his sleep to check on the fire.  To top it off, he’s been taking care of mom ever since.  And though I’ve had good days and bad days, dad has been a rock throughout.  Thanks dad, for being an amazing example of what an awesome dad, granddad and nanu looks like.  Mom has been inconvenienced the most because everything is different for her now– not only has she lost her home, her bedroom and her way of living, but she’s also had to adjust to a different TV, with different ways of watching and a new bathroom, among other things.  But despite it all, mom’s been a resilient trooper.
  • Charles Rawls – My best friend of 30 years, mentor and VP of operations – he showed up at 11 p.m. on a Monday night to help safeguard our family and offer his personal and moral support.
  • Jason Greenberg at Phoenix Public Adjusters – He was on a plane to Israel, heading to a bar mitzvah, when I called him about my house fire.  His team of experts jumped into action and brought sanity to our lives. 
  • Meena and Indy – Thanks Sis for letting us invade your house for a month.
  • Steve Klebanow – Thank you for cleaning all our clothes (and showing us just how much excess clothing we have!).
  • Jeff Greenberg – Thanks for stepping in as a public adjuster while Jason was in Israel.
  • Rob Picchioni – Thanks for the excellent demolition work and cleanup.
  • Tina and Varun – Thank you for bringing joy into our lives by schlepping the baby back and forth from Maryland multiple times.
  • The HTG Evolve staff and Connectwise – When we were short on clothes, they sent us a lovely care package full of T-shirts (which are super comfortable!), water bottles and a beach towel.  For two weeks, Sharon and the kids and I lived in those tees.  To date, they have become our favorite comfort shirts.
  • The staff at Parker Towers – Our new apartment rocks!
  • Our amazing therapists and counselors – Surviving a fire is stressful.  It’s hard on the adults and even harder on the teens whose life it upends.  Anger, grief, rage, depression – they all reared up.  Our counselors and therapists are helping us deal with the trauma and giving us the life skills we need to cope with it.
  • VEEAM – We switched to VEEAM as our backup and disaster recovery platform in January 2019.  In August 2019, VEEAM helped me recover critical Brainlink servers and personal data into Azure in less than ninety minutes.
  • Our amazing clients – Thank you for not noticing that I was unavailable for three weeks!   Also, thank you for letting our team take care of you.  And, most importantly, a personal thank you for offering moral support and good advice when I confided in you.
  • Our team at Brainlink – Charles, Greg, Anna, Hardy, and V – Thanks for carrying the workload while Sharon and I were busy focusing on our family.  Not only did we survive the fire, Brainlink posted our best quarter ever in Q4 2019!
  • The HTG18 group – No one knows what running a business is like except for a fellow business owner.  Thanks Bobby, Arlin, Trevor, Tarah, et al., for offering us support and help during our ordeal.
  • Trevor and Tarah – An extra special thanks for introducing us to Alexa!  Alexa-controlled devices make our lives much, much easier.

Lessons Learned

So, what lessons did I learn?

  1. My family is a bedrock of amazing women (mom, Sharon, Meena, Tina, Ari, Allie, Adi, and Ananya).
  2. The GOTHAM network is a life saver (Jason Greenberg, Steve Lichtenstein, David Edwards, Corey Bearak, and Scott Bloom – you guys are gems!).
  3. Knowing a good public adjuster before a disaster is critical – and Jason Greenberg is fantastic!
  4. Learn to read your insurance policies.  And ask an expert for help!
  5. Having a business and personal Disaster Recovery Plan matters!

Hurricane Sandy redefined our personal DRP.

  1. The go-bag is updated twice a year with:
    1. Current, comfortable clothes
    1. One to two weeks of prescription medication
    1. One month of over-the-counter medication
    1. One pair of shoes, slippers and seven days of under clothes
    1. Cell phone chargers and laptop chargers
    1. Copies of health, dental, house, business, life, long-term care and disability policies
    1. Copies of relevant medical records in paper and USB drive
    1. All family photos, music and critical documents stored online, securely in the cloud
    1. All passwords secured in LastPass Enterprise
  • Keep emergency cash on hand – Enough to check into a hotel for a week (especially in the event that all  ATMs are down).
  • Practice having your family leave the house in five minutes or less – Keep doing this drill until everyone knows what to take, what to leave and where to meet.
  • Practice your business DRP – We perform disaster recovery drills twice a year for Brainlink and our clients.  The fire revealed that two of our critical servers were still at the house in my home office–not any more!  Everything Brainlink runs on is in Amazon AWS or Microsoft Azure and replicated to multiple regions.

I hope you never have a disaster – not fire, flood, burst pipes – zip, zero, zilch.

On the other hand, if you do, I hope you’ve prepared.  And Practiced.

Your DRP is only as good as the people who execute it. 

Leaving your daughter’s stuffed bear behind because it wasn’t considered important in previous DR tests hurts.  It really hurts.  She misses her bear daily – and we never considered how powerful sentimental objects can be.

Learn from our ordeal – strengthen your family bonds; get to know your insurance brokers; make friends with a public adjuster; make a go-bag for the home and another for the office.  Teach your family members to do the same.  Teach your employees the same.

Live a fabulous life!


Raj and Sharon