NEW YORK - Neuberger & Berman had an opportunity to test its emergency systems Sept. 8 when a five-alarm fire raged through its mid-Manhattan headquarters, a 40-story office building at 605 Third Ave.
"We had a plan in place, but were surprised how smoothly it worked," said Stan Egener, president of Neuberger & Berman Mutual Funds.
The blaze started at about 9: 20 a.m., when an electrical explosion and fire knocked out power to elevators and an internal alarm system. The fire was brought under control within two hours, limiting damage to electrical equipment in the basement.
"It was a five-alarmer, 30 fire engines. It was really amazing," said Mr. Egener. "The staircases were filled with smoke. There was difficulty getting out. Some people were caught in elevators."
An electrician was seriously burned and 45 office workers in the building were treated for smoke inhalation. Roy Neuberger, 92 years old and a founder of the firm, was carried to safety down 40 flights.
The firm's offices were not damaged.
The firm, which runs $38 billion in mutual funds and separate accounts, closed its Third Avenue offices until electricity and telephone service were restored Sept. 12.
But to mutual fund shareholders and institutional customers of the firm, it was business as usual.
Calls from institutional clients were forwarded to Neuberger's 11 Broadway office. Calls to the firm's mutual fund toll-free number were forwarded to the firm's transfer agent, Boston Financial Data Services. The same automatic switching feature is used to handle an overflow of phone calls on heavy trading days.
Neuberger also sent about 30 telephone representatives to its transfer agent in Boston to help with the calls and five accounting people to help with daily portfolio valuations.
Employees worked out of Neuberger & Berman's business continuation site, a disaster recovery area across the river in Brooklyn. There, employees opened mail, took orders, fielded calls and used computers.
Mr. Egener said the husband of portfolio manager Josephine Mahaney is a fire chief, and he was on the phone with his wife at the time of the blaze.
"He looked on his screen in the fire station and said 'Get the hell out of the building - there's a five-alarm fire," Mr. Egener said.
Ms. Mahaney runs the Neuberger & Berman Cash Reserves Fund.