The employees of Orthodontic Excellence on South Hill clearly remember the night they got the call that their office building was on fire.
On Sept. 10, they rushed to the scene near 39th Avenue Southwest and 94th Avenue East, only to be met by smoke and flames.
There was nothing they could do.
“There were a good six of us … literally just standing there across the street in our pajamas, in the rain, just watching it burn,” said Stephanie Peterson, marketing manager for the dental practice, which was started about 13 years ago by Drs. Helena Skountrianos and Bobby Virk.
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They watched as firefighters battled the blaze and the building’s roof caved in.
“It was almost like you wanted to cry, just because you were so devastated, but at the same time you wanted to be strong,” said Michelle Martin, a treatment coordinator with the practice. “It’s a lot of mixed emotions at the same time.”
Cause of the fire is under investigation, Central Pierce Fire & Rescue spokesman Darrin Shaw said.
The practice wasn’t down for long — only three days, thanks to support from the community and some quick thinking.
Before the fire was out that night, employees got to work ordering equipment they knew would be destroyed, such as phones and a supply of plastic teeth aligners that had just been delivered.
“It’s like losing your home because we’re all there so often,” said Kalila Martinez, a two-year clinical assistant at the practice. “We’re thinking about all the things we’re losing. Automatically, we’re in work mode. We’re like, ‘What are we missing? Who do we need to call? How do we get our stuff back?’”
The next day, while emotionally drained, they found a vacant space down the street from the destroyed office. Using their cell phones and sitting on the floor, they got to work contacting patients.
The practice works with about 60 other dental offices in the area and sees about 90 patients a day. In August, the team had celebrated its best month of new patients, growing 40 percent from the beginning of 2017.
“That was our biggest month of all time, and literally 10 days later, it’s gone,” Peterson said. “It was really important for us to let the referring doctors know we’re not going to let our patients’ treatment be compromised by this.”
Then came the outpouring of support.
Dr. Varun Sharma with Avenue Dental Care in Puyallup let the practice use some office space and chairs. Douglas J. Knight Orthodontics in Tacoma provided instruments. Puyallup dentist Brian Liljas brought the team a coffee maker and mugs.
Even lunch was catered — for free — by Sparks Firehouse Deli and Jimmy Johns.
Because of the help, the offices was able to take consultations and see patients for emergencies.
Then Dr. Smita Patel with Canyon Road Orthodontics called. She told the team she used her Puyallup office space at 5620 112th St E. only once a week and was planning to sell.
Orthodontic Excellence bought the space and now shares it with Puyallup Family Dentistry.
“This was the most ideal location we could go,” Martinez said. “It’s just minutes away from our old one. It’s beautiful. There’s all the stuff we need. It’s already set up.”
Luckily, the practice had changed software to a cloud-based server two years ago. Even contact numbers were internet-based. The practice was up and running in the new office within 10 minutes. Three days after the fire, it was back to a regular schedule and saw no change in the volume of patients.
Now, the team is visiting and encouraging other practices in the area to back up their patient data.
“Have one staff meeting on us and just talk about any way you can prevent something like this — look at your files, look at your backups,” Peterson said.
The team plans to rebuild its old office and hopes to complete it in a year.
“We love the office that we’re working in, we love the dental office that we share it with,” Martin said. “We want to come back bigger and better, stronger than we were before.”