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One year later, Parke Bank reopens after fire

Published: Friday, January 27, 2012, 12:04 PM

Nearly a year after it was destroyed by an early morning fire last January, the Parke Bank on Egg Harbor Road finally reopened its doors to the public last week.

“It was the longest year of my life,” Daniel Sulpizio Senior Vice President and Director of Retail Banking at Parke Bank said. “It was really difficult to put everything back together. The only thing that was left was the four walls.”

Sulpizio remembers that frigid January morning well. While he works at the bank’s main office on Delsea Drive, he was headed over to the Dunkin Donuts near the Egg Harbor branch for his morning cup of coffee when he noticed a commotion on Hurffville-Cross Keys Road. Thinking it was just a traffic accident—he remembers the roads were particularly icy that day—Sulpizio got closer and soon realized the gravity of the situation.

“When I got to where PJ [Whelihans] is, I was looking over, rubbernecking to see the accident and I see flames shooting out of my building. I was just in amazement,” Sulpizio said.

By the time he got to the scene at around 7:40 a.m., the fire had been spreading for about 10 minutes. There was only one fire truck on scene, but once the fire escalated to two alarms, more of the Washington Township crews were on scene, in addition to a truck from Deptford Township.

Thankfully, no one was in the bank at the time. But Sulpizio knew he’d have his work cut out for him.

Standing in the parking lot of the destroyed building until his toes went numb from the bitter cold, he had to figure out how to handle the bank’s cash, left unharmed in the vaults.

By the time the fire was extinguished in the afternoon, the Washington Township Police Department was on hand to make sure no opportunistic burglars took advantage of the bank’s unarmed state. Sulpizio and his employees moved quickly to transfer the cash to the bank’s main office.

“It was certainly very scary. It was dripping wet. We didn’t know how safe the structure really was,”

While all of the customer information was backed up on the bank’s computer servers in multiple locations, they had to deal with the unique challenges in protecting and transitioning a financial institution.

The bank only had about 20 safe-deposit boxes at the location, but they had to make sure that the contents—which, by bank standards, are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.—remained safe.

“Because we care so much for the customers, we hired the Washington Township Police Department for 24 hours a day, seven days a week surveillance since there were no alarms in building to guard [the safe-deposit boxes,]” Sulpizio said.

Once they were able to clear a path and ensure the structure’s safety, they allowed customers into the bank’s charred remains to collect their belongings. The bank rented a heated trailer so customers would have a warm, private place to retrieve their most important documents and valuables.

While they know the fire started in the bank’s computer room, months of extensive investigations by every manufacturer that had equipment in the room turned up nothing. The official cause of the blaze remains inconclusive. But Sulpizio said they still learned a few lessons from the incident.

“Until you actually experience it, you don’t realize ‘What about this? What about that?’ Things you’d never given thought to, like the safe-deposit box issue. I don’t know of any other banks that’ve ever burned,” Sulpizio said.

After waiting months and months for the fire investigations to be completed, the building was finally handed back over to the bank, and construction to rebuild the location began last summer.

Luckily, the bank still held on to the original blueprints and plans for the building. They contacted their original vendors, and aside from some updates to building codes, they built an exact replica of the bank that once stood in its place.

“We were able to get everything put back together. It took a long time to get to that point,” Sulpizio said.

But it was well worth it. He said that branch’s employees, who were transferred to the banks’ headquarters while their location was rebuilt, were happy to finally see the new doors open. “They’re very happy to be back,” Sulpizio said. “It’s a small, community bank, we’re very family-oriented. They’re very happy to be back in their home.”