We seem to have five seasons in Idaho; Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer and Smoke. Whenever there is a good sized fire near homes and other occupied buildings, we get a lot of calls about cleaning up when it’s over and when do I need a professional fire damage restorer?
|Photo By Steve Dondero|
Let’s start off with some basics. Not all fires are the same. Often, in the case of a fire actually in a home or other building, there are plastics, nylon, paints, coatings and other synthetic materials as well as wood and paper that are completely or partially combusted. This can leave some pretty difficult residues to deal with as well as physical damage to walls, ceilings, furnishing and other finishes. We like to think that this is a job for a restoration company with equipment, experience and training to successfully assess, remove, repair, replace, restore and (sometimes most importantly) deodorize a building so it can be occupied without discomfort.
Actually one of the most difficult smoke/fire events to successfully restore is the eggs, beans, turkey or whatever that gets left on or in the oven and ends up being deposited as a nasty smelly protein residue on everything throughout a house. It is the one of the most commonly screwed up restoration projects there are, because the damage is difficult to see and too often is not removed because it is too much labor. Instead efforts are concentrated on covering up with sweet smelling foo-foo juice (save money on labor) and it means starting over to make it come out right.
When there are wildfires, there are obviously physical damages that occur to structures. All too often the building is completely destroyed, but there are heat and fire damage to roofs, decks,exterior surfaces, windows and furnishings. There may also be heavy ash residues on the building as well. Again, we think this probably is a job for super restorer to put things back like they were before the fire.
We also see a fairly new phenomena that requires removing the foam and retardants that are either purposely or accidentally applied to exteriors of buildings to prevent actual fire damage. Again, we suggest a call to super restorer to bring things back to normal and make sure the mess isn’t just made worse by well intentioned, but untrained responders.
The difference between a wildfire and a typical structure fire is the type of residues that remain when it’s over. With wildfire, the primary (if not only) material combusted is cellulosic (e.g., trees, grass, sagebrush) and the combustion is often complete. The remaining residues are ash that blows in the wind. As much as it pains me to say it, often times addressing the odor and cleanup of the remains of a wildfire in a house doesn’t really call for special powers of super restorer. While they may be labor intensive, the trick is executing simple cleaning techniques very well.
First of all, the odor is much more transient and associated with that dry ash residue. We know that bringing home a sleeping bag from a camping trip that has that campfire odor is often corrected by simply providing some ventilation on the clothesline before rolling it up and putting it away. A dose of “out with the bad air, in with the good”. Similarly, the majority of the smell associated with a wildfire is transient as well and while we can’t hang our house on the clothes line, other ventilation will go a long way toward curing what ails a house as well. A few changes of the filter on the furnace, opening the windows (when the wind isn’t blowing ash around) and the passage of a few days can make many of the pungent odors that seem to be everywhere a thing of the past.
The next step is removing the residues. Success typically involves simple everyday cleaning techniques like dry vacuuming, dusting and wiping down horizontal and vertical surfaces. We all understand that when the wind blows, even without ash from a wildfire, residues (dust) end up getting things dirty again. With all the extra residue (ash), the effect is certainly magnified, but the result is not so much damage as just a need for stepped up housecleaning.
Most of us have dodged the bullet as far as actual structural damage. We can be thankful for some heroic efforts of firefighters from all over the state and the country for making this more of a big campfire than the property damage catastrophe that it could have been. If you need a professional super restorer or are unsure if you do or don’t, please feel free to give us a call. We will give you the benefit of our experience in making an honest assessment of how best to address your situation. If appropriate, we will provide our best super restorer skill to help you get back to normal. You can also find tips under “FAQ and Insurance Claims” at our website
We may be visited by some folks from out of town looking for work when this is over as well. Its a good idea to always remember to be careful when speaking to strangers.
If you had to make a choice, which would be better, someone who started strong and then didn’t complete the task at hand or someone who got off to a bit of a rocky start , but finished strong and made sure the project was complete?
Everyday in the property damage restoration is somewhat analogous to taking on a remodeling project without having the opportunity to plan ahead. Seldom is there a pre-catastrophe meeting to discuss the property owner’s vision of the how catastrophic event will unfold, what the extent of the damage will be and how the finished project will look. There are almost always no plans, many times we may have not even have met the property owner before hand. It’s is more often than not, “pleasure to meet you”, “sign here please” and the relationship starts with us re-arranging people’s personal contents, maybe pulling up floor coverings or cutting drywall and generally starting that remodel project that we will work out the details of later. It can be a little overwhelming. Usually, if we’ve responded in a timely manner when that first call that came in, if our crews do what they do best or bring in extra team members with special expertise when needed and if we don’t expend too many resources on lost causes or neglect items of importance to the property owner, if we can provide value during those sometimes chaotic first moments and keep the process moving along while we let everyone come up to speed and the planning for the end catchup; damage restoration projects have a good chance of turning out a success.
Actually the first part is the easy part, because if there are molehills that pop up-there is usually an opportunity to address them before they turn into mountains. However, it is not uncommon to hear from people who have suffered through a property damage (as well as a remodel) that it took forever to get the last few details taken care of or worse yet, there is still something like a piece of trim or a bit of touch up paint that never quite got finished.
We believe that the goal of the project is to make sure that everything is put back to a pre-loss condition. This means that the paint and the carpet and contents and everything else is back to normal, not “almost” back to normal. We can’t control whether an insurance policy or the company that issued it covers all of the damage that results from a fire, flood, or other damage event. We can make it a part of our company culture that our part of the job isn’t finished until it’s finished and that everyone on our staff needs to finish their part of the process-not leave anything that was agreed to be completed, incomplete.
So, if we succeed at being “quick”,”competent”, “appropriate” and finally “complete” in all of our interactions with our client property owners and all of the other materially interested parties in the damage restoration process, we believe we can provide a valuable service to everyone in the process.
I’m not saying that it we don’t sometimes enjoy the joke when someone does something that others nearby may deem inappropriate (“Here, pull my finger”). I always wonder why some people can pull off that being inappropriate thing and make it seem so cute, just a little eccentric or adorably curmudgeonly. But that is a discussion for another blog post. This blog is about how responding appropriately is an important principle in damage restoration.
This is the “give a man a fish” vs. “teaching a man to fish” moment for the damage restoration contractor and their staff. When the question is asked “why did you do that?”, the explanation of why someone thought an action was appropriate is a good place to drill down.
The old joke is that all it takes to dry out a water damage is to put two fans and a dehumidifier in the place and come back in three days after it’s dry to pull the equipment out. That’s “how” you dry a building. Unfortunately too many “professional” restoration contractors don’t understand why they should consider any other options.
The truth is that while there are certainly some common scenarios that we encounter, if all we consider is how rather than why we take the actions we take, we would deserve to get body parts in a wringer when things go awry on a project. It is also true that what may be the appropriate action to take in a 30 year old mobile home might not be the appropriate action to take in a custom finished home which might not be appropriate in action in a medical facility which might not be the appropriate action in….and on and on. Of course the rub comes when we start making value judgements of what is appropriate. One person’s funny story over dinner with friend may be another person’s off color joke in front of the congregation at church on Easter Sunday. The principle is to take into consideration the circumstances and the conditions presented and then, based on one’s experience, education and training; make a judgement as to what is appropriate in this situation.
We recently had a situation where a hardwood floor was impacted by a sewer backup, the owner was out of town, there were questions on coverage, the owner’s insurance agent was saying to do the minimal amount required and the insurance company didn’t respond to the site for five days. Our technician at the site knew that the sewage damaged floor should come out, but was told specifically not to remove it until the adjuster had inspected it and coverage was established. He knew that if he didn’t take some action that the water would continue to damage the floor so that even if someone was willing to live with a sewage contaminated floor it would be swollen and probably have mold growth as an additional contaminant from sitting unaddressed for several days. He was faced with a bad choice of (1) deciding to do nothing and letting it pose additional risks to the health of the occupants,(2) setting up containment and taking steps (spend money) to start aggressively drying a contaminated floor that would probably be torn out anyway, (3) just tearing out the floor against the instructions of the agent and risk it not being covered or (4)?. When asked why he did what he did there was obviously not a right answer that fit all of the materially interested party’s agendas in this case, but there was a wrong answer and that answer would have been “I don’t know”.
We believe that, even though second guessing has become something of an art form in damage restoration, assessing the situation and attempting to discern, then taking the appropriate action under the circumstances is the third principle of a successful restoration project.
(If you wonder how the job ended up, send me an e-mail at reecon@the-restorers and I’ll give you the details.)