Guide to Fire and Smoke Damage Restoration November 8, 2016 – Posted in: Blog, Industrial
Few forces in nature have the destructive capacity of fire, and even fewer possess a similar ability to strike anywhere, at any time, with little or no warning. And while commercial properties and businesses are almost always insured against fire losses, they rely on smoke and fire damage restoration professionals to bring their facilities back to full operation in as short a time as reasonably possible.
That’s where you come in. According to the statistics compiled by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were an estimated 100,500 commercial fires in 2013, resulting in an inflation-adjusted $2.9 billion in damage. Of course, the dollar figures only reflect the direct damage caused by fires, but as any repair professional knows, direct damage estimates are almost never an accurate accounting of the total losses, which are, it goes without saying, emotional as well as financial.
This means many Americans each year will find themselves relying on professional, ethical and efficient smoke and fire damage restoration experts to help get their businesses, residences and lives back up and running after the worst comes to pass. Following sensible fire damage restoration steps, not to mention providing moral and emotional support for fire victims, is what makes this industry so important — and so potentially rewarding.
Rapid Action to Minimize Damage
Smoke and soot — which consist primarily of carbon and other chemicals — are always present at fire scenes, in addition to residual water. Here are some of the types of damage that usually occur after a fire has been extinguished:
Soot is the primary carbon byproduct of burned materials. Depending on what was burned — most commercial fires involve more than one type of burning material — soot can be acidic and cause damage of its own, with nearly any surface it contacts. Porous and textured surfaces are the most vulnerable to soot staining. Even after the fire, soot in the air or adhering to surfaces will begin discoloring plastics, certain stones, grout, unburnt wood, carpeting and textiles. The longer the exposure lasts, the less likely it is that the discoloration can be reversed, and the greater the likelihood that a particular item will have to be replaced.
Mold and Mildew
Moisture in the air interacts with mold spores, which causes mildew. In damper, darker spaces (it’s not uncommon to be without natural or artificial lighting after a fire) mold thrives and produces mildew. Like soot, mildew will often stain porous or absorbent surfaces, including clothes, carpeting, marble, wood and others.
As you know, any full restoration includes the removal of mold and mildew vegetation, as well as any moisture that’s likely to allow their return. Air movers and dehumidifiers can assist with removing the water that promotes mildew growth, while air scrubbers help to remove the airborne mold spores and the telltale odor.
Rust and Corrosion
In order for metal to become oxidized, it has to interact with a source of oxygen. Water will often give up its oxygen atom to a metal, which creates oxidization, or corrosion. When it comes to small electronic components and conductors, water, through oxidization, can render them irreparable. It can also increase the risk of electrical shock.
There is an overwhelmingly pungent odor that permeates the air in most commercial fire sites. This is usually caused by a number of individual odors combining. Mildew, for instance, continues to putrefy the air until it is removed from any surface it’s affected, requiring air scrubbers to work longer and harder. The more time odors have to interact with surfaces, the more difficult they are to get rid of.
Quickly getting a series of commercial grade air scrubbers, dehumidifiers and air movers into the affected areas can pay long-term dividends in removing smells and reducing restoration times.
Restoration Work Begins in Earnest
For any fire and smoke damage mitigation team, safety is always the first priority following a fire. For example, only a licensed, authorized professional with appropriate certifications — usually a utility company employee — should attempt to reconnect any utility that the fire department has disconnected.
Furthermore, under no circumstances should any agents of your company appear to authorize or encourage an unlicensed, untrained person to enter a fire scene, and even minor fire damage cleanup should be left to an IIRC-certified (Institution of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration) fire damage repair professional, or by a contractor with similar accreditation.
Making use of personal protective equipment is also required, and can include gloves, boots, dust masks and more.
Experienced fire and smoke damage repair contractors know that the one constant of fire is its unpredictability. And just as no two structure fires are alike, all structure restoration jobs are different. Still, most smoke and fire damage restoration projects involve some combination of the following steps:
Protect Breaches and Ingress Points
Following an appraisal of the structural damage to a residential or commercial property, any obvious breaches or ingress points, such as holes in the ceiling, or missing or broken windows and doors, will be temporarily sealed with tarps, plastic sheeting, wood panels or some combination of these. This will prevent curious passersby from entering the property and can help mitigate further loss of property due to theft.
Protection from Further Damage
Naturally, damage from the smoke and fire itself is only one of several concerns, and one of several potential sources of continued danger, both for the property’s owners and for the restoration teams that arrive on the scene. Water from putting out the fire may also have played a role in weakening structural elements in the building, most particularly the roof and walls, and drywall and flooring materials may be positioned precariously after having been knocked out of place.
Before the restoration work can begin, individuals trained in spotting and mitigating further damage and injury must inspect the area.
Beyond the obvious damage caused by smoke and fire, the presence of significant amounts of water must also be addressed in short order, to prevent them from inflicting further damage to the property. Air movers, dehumidifiers and sometimes even pumps will be required to remove moisture from the air, as well as standing water on the floor. As any reputable fire restoration expert knows, the water left behind from fighting the fire presents several risks of its own.
Debris and Soot Removal
The distinct and overpowering odor left behind after a major fire arises is due in no small part to the presence of the fire source itself. Debris left at “ground zero” will be removed promptly, to help reduce the intensity of the odor and help restoration crews more quickly and effectively get to work returning the building to its former self. It should be noted that both the responding fire department and the insurance company will need to make a report as to the origin and cause of the fire before this debris can be removed.
In most large-scale commercial fires, there are burned materials on the ground (e.g. acoustic ceiling tiles, furnishings, charred rugs, etc.). This will all need to be removed, as the soot covering them will mix with moisture and continue to cause damage to the property, which can increase the restoration expenses. Debris removal is also essential to mitigate the odors in the air that are caused by microscopic dust emanating from soot deposits and burned debris.
Shop vacuums are often helpful for removing the bulk of the powdery soot that accompanies most fires, but make certain they are rated for this type of job and can be safely operated in wet environments. Special caution should be used when handling or moving any electrical appliances or machines. Even if the power has been disconnected and the device in question has been unplugged, most electronics contain capacitors, which store electricity – increasing the risk of electric shock.
In cases of larger and more destructive fires, it may be necessary to pack up and remove personal or company-owned belongings to prevent them from coming to further harm and to prevent recontamination once they’re returned to the premises. Trained fire and smoke damage mitigation teams will clean these items thoroughly and discard of any belongings that are too far gone, or which present an unacceptable contamination risk.
The last thing any business owner needs is to be reminded of the fire event with a piece of equipment or other possession that hasn’t been cleaned and deodorized thoroughly.
Cleaning up standing water is essential, but because water has a tendency to soak into various absorbent surfaces, moisture removal doesn’t end with dry floors. In addition to the standing water you see upon entering almost any fire cleanup job, water will have seeped into the walls, the floorboards and, depending on the type of flooring, below the floor surfaces themselves.
In multi-story buildings, it’s not unusual for standing water to seep down to the next level, affecting ceilings and walls. Air movers can accelerate the drying process for floors, walls and furnishings. They can be stacked or elevated to reach higher water-damaged areas.
Deep Cleaning, Stain Removal and Deodorizing
The reality of fire is that loss is inevitable. Property owners have to be realistic about what can and can’t be saved, and professional fire and smoke damage restoration businesses need be careful about setting realistic expectations when discussing the salvageability of furnishings, fixtures, wall and floor surfaces and appliances.
There are many commercially available products designed to polish surfaces and remove smells, but restoration professionals should make a determination as to whether the savings realized by salvaging a badly damaged item are worth the investment of time, materials and labor. Sometimes, replacement is the better option.
Because soot and mildew will penetrate porous surfaces, like marble and other soft stones, it may be necessary to use a product designed for penetrating and removing stains from that particular type of material. Carpets and draperies provide different challenges and will often require thorough shampooing, but sometimes they just can’t be salvaged.
The goal of the cleanup operation is to remove all evidence of fire, smoke and water damage, and to present a pristine building to the client. The air should be clear of any smoky or mildew odors. Surfaces should be intact and free of stains or discoloration, and furnishings should be restored or replaced. Invisible damage — burned electrical conduits or plumbing, mold within the walls or beneath the flooring and anything else caused by smoke or water — should be identified, removed and/or repaired.
Once the cleanup is complete, and the insurance company and local governmental bodies inspect the property, contractors can initiate whatever installations and restorations remain. This may include replacing surfaces, furnishings and fixtures that were determined to be irreparably damaged. This may involve working with subcontractors contracted by your restoration company, the insurance company or the business owner.
Remember that virtually every inch of the building and its contents will need to be cleaned thoroughly to remove every trace of the contaminants responsible for odors, which is performed using a variety of high-powered equipment built specifically for this purpose. Thermal foggers and air scrubbers are particularly relevant in the aftermath of fires, as they’re by far the most useful tools for removing the particulates and odors left lingering in the air. Dehumidifiers come into play to mitigate the moisture left behind by the act of fighting the fire.
We will explore the equipment used, their specific purpose and the steps necessary to ensure a full post-fire restoration in the following sections.
Specialized Equipment and Resources in Fire Damage Repairs
Professional fire damage cleanup requires the appropriate equipment for the job. Moreover, the size of the fire-damaged area, the type of building, the materials that were burned, the property’s ventilation, the time delay and many other factors dictate the type, size and amount of equipment required for the cleanup and restoration.
As a certified smoke and fire damage restoration contractor, you must carry an arsenal of air scrubbers, air movers, dehumidifiers and other tools to tailor your operations to each specific job. These resources can affect your ability to start on a project immediately. If your fire restoration company takes on too large of a job or too many smaller jobs, you may not have the assets (e.g. air scrubbers, dehumidifiers, etc.) available to handle your contract or contracts expeditiously, which is unacceptable to the client.
If your restoration business has inadvertently over-expanded, you may be able to purchase additional components from a reliable distributor or, in some cases, subcontract another licensed outfit to handle the business overflow, but both solutions can cause delays, reduced profits and possible damage to your firm’s reputation.
Making your company battle-ready means having the tools to take on large commercial contracts and move onto the site with whatever is needed to handle the job. Let’s examine some of the more common types of equipment that you may have to purchase or upgrade.
Used to remove pollutants from the atmosphere, air scrubbers utilize a filtration system to suck air through an intake, pass it through a filter and expel a cleaner, “scrubbed” air. The clean air then mixes with the un-scrubbed smoky air, which becomes less dense the longer the air scrubber is operating. Factors affecting how quickly an air scrubber is able to clean a room include:
- The initial smoke density
- The volume of the room or rooms
- The ventilation in the room
- The quality and condition of the filter
The most effective air scrubbers are equipped with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters, which use two types of materials to catch large and small particles. These higher-quality filters prevent smaller particles from re-entering the air once they pass through the scrubber. Inferior filters will often allow some smaller particles to recirculate until they are caught again.
Despite their power and versatility in fire damage cleanup, air scrubbers can be compact, light, durable and affordable to even smaller fire restoration businesses. For instance, the B-Air RA-650 HEPA air scrubber from Aer Industries measures a compact 25 x 20 x 14 inches and weighs only 45 pounds. Each unit is capable of working in a space up to 7,500 cubic feet and uses advanced HEPA filters.
These units are compact enough to get into smaller spaces and can work with similar equipment in larger buildings.
These machines draw air in through an intake and direct it out of a port — similar to a handheld hair dryer, but without the heat. Air movers are essential for the accelerated drying of walls, floors, carpet and furnishings. Air movers force air over wet or damp surfaces, drawing moisture into the stream and moving it away from the material it was clinging to.
Because the air is focused, it works more rapidly than competing air movement solutions. The number of air movers a job requires and the manner in which they are arranged depends upon:
- The size of the affected area
- Whether the surface is horizontal (floor) or vertical (walls)
- The porousness of the surface (drywall vs. wood, for example)
- The ventilation of the room
- The power level of the machinery
Larger rooms may call for several air movers. Some brands, like the BlueDri One29 Air Mover, are light, portable and constructed in a way that allows up to three units to be stacked in a tower configuration. Units like these have variable settings so the user can select the air speed that’s appropriate to the surface area and the type of job.
Air movers are great for increasing airflow, but they usually need the assistance of dehumidifiers to remove the moisture from the air and prevent the water from settling back to the surfaces.
The job of a dehumidifier is to remove moisture from the air. Without an industrial dehumidifier, the moisture the air mover is liberating from the surface and releasing into the air can end up condensing on the walls and ground, making the drying process a slow, futile, recursive cycle. But even absent air movers, the air inside of most post-fire scenes is naturally damp due to the copious water pumped into buildings to contain and extinguish fires.
Like air scrubbers and movers, air flows into the dehumidifier. But instead of filtering out particles or blasting the air out, a cooling coil within the unit causes water to condense and gather. A single unit, like the BueDri BD-76P Commercial Dehumidifier, can remove up to 76 pints (19 gallons) of moisture from the air per day. This is a substantial volume of water vapor, which is why a dehumidifier is such an invaluable tool in water and fire damage restoration.
Smoke and Fire Damage Restoration Equipment for Professionals
At Aer Industries we sell professional-grade, high-efficiency equipment that is built to provide years of service cleaning fire and flood scenes. Trying to substitute an air scrubber, air mover or dehumidifier with a multipurpose product that isn’t specifically designed for large commercial property fire damage cleanup will generally lead to inferior and unprofessional results.
Don’t risk the reputation of your company by being underprepared or underequipped for a contract. Before investing in new or additional fire restoration equipment, check the manufacturer’s specs and make certain the machinery you are buying is sufficient for the type of jobs you anticipate contracting.
And if you plan on expanding your business and taking on larger commercial restoration projects, you are going to need additional equipment, including scrubbers, air movers and dehumidifiers. Aer Industries sells wholesale and industrial equipment packages that are ideal for new or expanding businesses looking to take on larger restoration projects.
If you have any questions concerning the capabilities of Aer Industries’ smoke and fire damage restoration equipment, please contact one of our representatives for more information today online or by calling 855.345.3555.