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Reborn from the ashes

Firefighter paged to battle fire at his own rental company.

Gaétan Longpré and his wife Johanne Dicaire have been franchisees of a Joe Rent All since 1993.


October 29, 2008
By Martine Frigon

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A 1997 photo of the Joe Rent All building, located in Gatineau, Quebec, before it was destroyed by a fire in 2006. The newly rebuilt rental store has a total surface area of 5600 square feet which is double that of the previous facility.
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Firefighter paged to battle fire at his own rental company.

Gaétan Longpré and his wife Johanne Dicaire have been franchisees of a Joe Rent All since 1993. Located in Gatineau, Quebec, in the Buckingham sector, their rental company was completely destroyed by a fire in 2006. Ironically Longpré, who is a firefighter, was on call that night and he was paged to fight a fire at his own rental store!

Because he was so busy bringing the fire under control he was unable, at the time, to do anything regarding the business itself. However, Longpré and Dicaire did not give up on their rental operation. With the assistance of family and friends, and even their competitors, it was business as usual in less than 24 hours!

On August 10, Longpré was awakened at 2:17am as his pager beeped in response to a 911 call. Flames had been seen in a building located on Thibault Street in Buckingham. He got up in a hurry and prepared to rush to the fire hall. At the time, the thought never occurred to him that it might be his own business that was in danger because there were several other businesses also located in this particular industrial centre. But a surprise awaited him when he arrived at the scene of the fire. He immediately noticed that the fire was very close to the building that he shared with several other businesses. At the time, the fire was concentrated in the business next to his, a business which specialized in filling propane bottles! His immediate fear was the danger from exploding propane containers.

He had just enough time to rescue a few pieces of equipment and a computer from his building. The computer was used by his wife, who was in charge of the bookkeeping and the administrative management of the business. Luckily, the data on this computer, which contained a list of their suppliers, customers and inventory, remained intact. Three fire engines and 20 firefighters from the Buckingham fire hall worked diligently. However, an hour after the call, they were still unable to contain the fire. Consequently, extra firefighters from Gatineau came to lend a hand. In the end, more than 60 firefighters were involved fighting this major blaze.

“Within three hours, 5000 propane bottles, each containing 20 pounds of propane, and seven 2000 gallon propane tanks exploded. As company officer, I was responsible for 20 men and I
decided that it was too dangerous for us to try and enter my place of business. I didn’t want to take any risks with my crew,” Longpré says, adding that it was an odd experience as a firefighter to see his source of livelihood being destroyed. “I could not afford to be emotional because as an officer, I had a job to do. We had to secure the surrounding area because of the propane bottles and tanks,” he explains.

Later on, an investigation showed that the fire was the result of arson and had started in the business located next door to the rental store. Only 20 percent of all the equipment that belonged to the rental operation was saved, and this was mostly machinery that was already outside the building.

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The owners bought their former neighbour’s location, the one in which the fire started, to expand their operation during the rebuilding process. Nine months after the fire, their new building opened on March 1, 2007.

Family, friends and competitors join hands
Standing in front of this scene of devastation in the early morning, the husband and wife business partners did not become depressed. Instead, they decided to pool all their resources and start over. Longpré tried to recover as much as he could from the ruins and Dicaire transferred the business telephone lines to their cellular telephone. In less than 24 hours, the operation was relocated temporarily just 100 feet away on the same street. They were fortunate that this space was unoccupied and available for the time being, as this facilitated their customers’ routine of looking for the business in the same general area.

Arsène, Johanne’s dad, a retiree who was 76 years old at the time, and who had worked in industrial construction, committed himself to helping his daughter and son-in-law. “My father spent more than 15 hours a day helping us. It was the same thing for my mother and the other members of our families; they all came to help us,” she says, adding, she is extremely grateful to everybody who helped them. “Our customers were very understanding and even our competitors in the surrounding area provided us with the equipment we needed. We are so appreciative of all they did for us!” she says.

Be well insured to be reassured!
Through this period of bad luck, the couple quickly realized the meaning of carrying adequate insurance coverage. The morning after the fire, Dicaire contacted their insurance agent, Hubert Frenette from Michel Brosseau Insurances in Montreal, who arrived at the site with a claims adjuster.

Just three weeks before the fire, the insurance agent had met with her to suggest a revision to their insurance in case reconstruction might be necessary. Such a change in the insurance policy meant, of course, an increase in insurance premiums. “My initial reaction was I didn’t want to see my premiums increase,” she says, finally accepting the advice of the insurance agent.

“He told me that I had to be realistic and take into consideration the real costs in case of a disaster and not just think about what it would cost in premiums. He proved to be right, of course! Because he gave me good advice, we were able to rebuild and start over. I would say to anyone, when choosing an insurance policy, work with an agent who is straightforward and realistic.”

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From left to right: Jean-Claude Duc, Joe Rent All co-ordinator; Gaétan Longpré, Steve Dicaire, Johanne Dicaire and Arsène Dicaire with their dog Max.
Photo By Martine Frigon.

Back in business
Today, the rebuilt rental store has a total surface area of 5600 square feet which is double that of the previous business place. To make this possible, the Longpré-Dicaire couple bought their former neighbour’s location, the one in which the fire started, giving them more space to rebuild which cost $500,000. After nine months in their temporary location, their new building opened on
March 1, 2007.

Since they had to rebuild everything, they decided to add a new division. “Most of our clients are entrepreneurs, and we now have a division which
specializes in the maintenance of hydraulic hoses and chain saws, and we have an inventory of parts and pieces valued at $30,000,” specifies Longpré.

“This is quite exclusive among our franchisees because the Longpré-Dicaire operation has more contractors than homeowners as customers,” says Jean-Claude Duc, the Joe Rent All co-ordinator.

Beside the hydraulic division, a 2250 square foot area is intended for small engine repairs and the
maintenance of equipment on guarantee with manufacturers such as King Canada and MTD. A mezzanine of 1100 square feet has also been built and is used as storage space for additional goods. The rental location also has an area located outside the building where propane bottles are filled. According to Longpré, all of this amounts to approximately $1.0 million in inventory.

From a disaster that could have meant drastic changes for their future, unexpected assistance helped the couple to get through this ordeal. “I’ll always remember all the people who helped us, including our insurance agent who gave us well-informed and professional advice!” says Dicaire.


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