An early holiday present is on the way for doctors, staff and patients of Mid-Atlantic Family Practice.
By early December, the practice is expected to be up and running again at its Route 24 location near Lewes.
That will come less than eight months after a devastating April 24 fire that required leveling the building. Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Harry Miller said damage was estimated at $1 million.
The five-alarm blaze started in a mulch pile near the front entrance; a strong breeze quickly spread the fire to an outside wall. Staff tried to extinguish the blaze, but it was apparent it was getting out of control.
When the blaze at 3:45 p.m., about 40 people were in the facility, said CEO Jeffrey Heckert. “Our staff did everything they were supposed to do getting everyone out within a few minutes. It's a credit to the staff for their training,” he said.
The fire was so hot that bumpers of nearby vehicles melted, Heckert said.
Patients and staff returning to the building will find it looks familiar. “It is the exact same building – even the foundation,” Heckert said.
The building is not in a commercial zone; it received a conditional-use, and under county code, only subtle changes can be made when it's rebuilt. Major changes in the building's footprint or use would require a new county land-use application. “That would have delayed the process,” Heckert said.
Delay was not a word staff wanted to hear. Heckert said builders have been on site seven days a week, missing only two days due to bad weather over the past four months. “To be back as soon as we will be back has to be a world land speed record for a project in Sussex County,” he said.
Heckert said before the fire was out, a second location in Millsboro had been secured. Seven providers work out of the Lewes office and four providers work out of the Millsboro office.
Heckert said insurance representatives told him they could have the practice up and running by July 27. “We laughed and told them we would being seeing patients tomorrow,” he said.
The offices in Lewes and Millsboro were closed the day after the fire, but were up and running after the weekend on Monday morning. The second temporary Millsboro location was open within 10 days.
Heckert said he is aware the fire has caused hardships for patients and staff. “We understand the strain on our staff – they have been unbelievable,” he said.
All records were backed up and stored off site. In addition, the practice's two offices have redundant systems. “Without those electronic records, we would have been out of business,” he said. “We were lucky to recover everything.”
Some staff and vendors will be back at the Lewes location in early November getting the offices and patient areas outfitted; re-opening is expected in late November or early December.
Sussex Emergency Operations Center officials said a total of 15 fire companies were on the scene or on standby for companies that were battling the five-alarm fire.