Fire and Smoke Damage Preparedness
THE FIRE MAY BE OUT, BUT THE WORK IS FAR FROM OVER
Fire and smoke damage can have lasting effects on your property long after the blaze has been extinguished. Help to reduce your risk ahead of time with this guide.
Fire and Smoke Damage: What Every Commercial Property Owner Should Know
It’s no surprise that fires can cause serious damage to a commercial or residential property. And while the first step should be to extinguish the blaze, many property owners aren’t prepared for what comes next. The truth is fire damage and smoke damage can come in many forms. But figuring out what to do first, whom to call and how to begin the repair and restoration process can be confusing.
So what does a property owner need to know about fire and smoke damage to help protect their property and ensure they get back up and running as soon as possible?
Fire Damage – What Is It and What Causes It?
In most cases, the definition of fire damage is pretty self-explanatory. Fire damage involves anything that is damaged as a result of heat and flames. This includes any substances, equipment or infrastructure flames may have come in contact with during a fire. Heat can also cause significant damage to a structure and can even damage neighboring properties if they are close enough.
However, the cause of a fire may not be as easy to identify. It might be something as obvious as a spark or ember from an existing fire, an open heat source that has been left unattended or an electrical or equipment malfunction. But it could also be something less obvious like oily rags left on the floor of a garage or even arson.
What Is Considered Smoke Damage?
There’s an old saying: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” At the same time, smoke damage from fire can just as easily occur without an actual fire taking place.
Smoke damage can occur with something as minimal as a puff of smoke from a malfunctioning electrical system, piece of industrial equipment or overcooked bag of microwave popcorn to something as significant as a full-on fire. Smoke damage can even result from a far off blaze, like when wind pushes wildfire smoke into communities many miles away.
To put it simply, there is no one-size-fits-all scientific definition of what is considered smoke damage. But if smoke is in the air to the point where a person can smell it, then there is a good chance smoke damage has occurred.
Primary Fire and Smoke Damage Versus Secondary Fire and Smoke Damage
Primary fire and smoke damage involves any visible evidence that a fire has taken place, such as charred materials or soot. Secondary damage pertains to things like smoke that can spread throughout a property undetected. Water damage that occurs as a result of extinguishing the fire is also considered secondary damage.
What To Do If The Property Has Suffered Fire or Smoke Damage
Fires have many different causes and many different outcomes. The first thing a property owner should do is to make sure all occupants have been safely evacuated from the property. The property owner will also want to contact their insurance company to begin the claim process and verify their coverage.
A property owner may not be allowed to enter the building or assess the damage until they have received an all clear from the local authorities. This may include the fire department, a fire investigator, police, or in some cases the insurance company.
In the case of a business or multifamily property, the property owner will want to determine how quickly the property can be repaired and restored so that normal function can resume. The best way to make this determination is to call a restoration company. They can dispatch a response crew to assess the situation and determine next steps.
Any damage that can be mitigated by a restoration company will be tackled as soon as possible as long as the property is safe to enter, and an investigation is not taking place. A mitigation/restoration crew may even be able to gain access to certain areas to begin work while other areas are off limits.
Do’s and Don’ts After a Fire
- Call the insurance company.
- Make sure utilities have been shut off in the affected areas.
- Make sure to shut off the HVAC system to prevent airborne particles from traveling to unaffected areas.
- Limit movement within the structure to avoid stirring up soot and ash.
- Keep hands clean and avoid touching surfaces — the soot combined with oils from hands has the potential to contaminate other areas.
- Contact a restoration company to assess the damage and cost.
- Don’t enter the property until the okay has been given.
- Don’t turn on any utilities until you have received the okay from the fire department or utility company.
- Don’t throw away or attempt to clean items until inventory taken place.
- Don’t attempt any repairs or begin any cleaning without consulting a professional cleaning or restoration company.
- Don’t accept any financial compensation from an insurance company without first consulting a professional cleaning or restoration company to determine what it will cost to fix.
What To Do If The Cause Of The Fire Is Under Investigation
If the cause of the fire is under investigation, the property owner will have to wait until the investigation has been completed before they can begin to repair or restore the affected areas. Such an investigation can take as little as a few days to a few months, depending on the cause of the fire, the level of damage and the property involved.
Once the investigation has been completed, the property/business owner may need to receive verification from the fire department, fire investigator or insurance company before restoration can begin.
Does Liability Insurance Cover Fire Damage
Property owners should always check their policy or contact the insurance provider to ensure they understand the terms of their liability insurance. Depending on the policy, the insurer may require certain steps to be taken for damage to be covered. This may include the installation and regular maintenance or inspection of fire suppression systems like sprinklers or fire extinguishers.
Water Damage As A Result Of A Fire
Water and fire damage repair often go hand in hand. In cases of water damage due to the extinguishing of a fire, the most heavily affected areas should be treated first. Water extraction is extremely important to prevent further damage. Additional steps include:
- Removing carpet and carpet padding so that it can be dried, if possible
- Removing baseboards
- Drilling weep holes in the base of the wall to free trapped water and act as ventilation
- Set drying equipment to start the dehumidification and drying process
Eliminating Odors As A Result Of Fire Or Smoke
It is extremely difficult to remove smoke odors from property or materials that have been heavily damaged. For materials like drywall, metal framing and wood framing, the odors are often baked in. Often the best course of action in such cases is to remove or replace the affected materials.
When it comes to personal and sentimental items, what can be salvaged will depend on the severity of the damage. However, because these items often contain a combination of smoke and soot, simply taking clothes to a dry cleaner or using an off-the-shelf cleaner on furniture may not be enough. It may even make the damage worse. It is best to consult with a restoration professional who has the necessary equipment, cleaning products and experience to determine how best to clean and restore an item to its original condition.
Painting Over Fire-Damaged Walls
Some property owners make the mistake of painting over seemingly minorly affected or unaffected walls after a fire, thinking a few new coats will make the odor go away. That is not the case. Walls are porous. Even with a new coat of paint, smoke odors will continue to seep through and circulate in the air. To prevent this, the wall first needs to be sealed before it can it be painted safely.
Impact Of Fire And Smoke Damage On Residential/Multifamily Properties
In residential or multifamily dwellings, such as apartments or condominiums, the level of severity and response to fire and smoke damage will affect how quickly the residents can return to their homes. The least affected areas should be restored first to minimize the impact on residents. The most severely affected areas will be restored last because of the significant amount of restoration or repair that will need to take place.
How Smoke Damage Can Affect Healthcare Facilities
Healthcare facilities are particularly vulnerable to the effects of smoke damage. Much of the equipment they use and the people they treat are extremely sensitive to particulate matter. For example, smoke emitted from a malfunctioning hospital sterilizer machine or SPV unit may find its way into the HVAC system, where it can spread throughout the facility.
Healthcare facilities also require a higher level of cleanliness and are required to follow strict health regulations for the sake of patients, staff and visitors. In the event of smoke or fire damage, it may even be necessary to call an industrial hygienist to assess any health impacts.
Whom To Call To Assess Repair, And Restore Property After Fire Or Smoke Damage
When it comes to a commercial or business property, the best bet is to call a professional restoration service. As with most things, one of the biggest advantages in doing is to ensure the insurability of the property. Some insurance companies may not insure a property if the repair or restoration has not been performed according to the requirements of the policy.
Professional restoration services also have resources that a general contractor, cleaning service, plumber or electrician does not. In cases when a permit is required to perform work, many restoration companies can cut through the red tape so work can begin sooner. They may also be able to negotiate pricing with an insurance provider to ensure the work is covered and performed to the specifications as required by the policy.
Post-fire, it is recommended a property owner seek a restoration professional that has the necessary fire and smoke restoration technician certification credentials. These certifications show that the technicians performing the restoration and repair have the training, understanding and resources to complete the job according to proper protocols and any rules and regulations.
Cost Of Using A Restoration Company
Fire damage restoration costs and smoke damage costs will depend on the level of damage and severity, the size of the property, the inspections that may be required and the amount of time it will take to restore the property back to its original condition.
The goal for any restoration company is to restore as much as possible without throwing it away and to get people back into their properties safely and as soon as possible so they can resume their lives.
Fire Damage Restoration Tips And Smoke Damage Restoration Tips
An insurance company is often the best source when it comes to reducing the risk of fire or smoke damage that may affect a business or property. The policy itself may require certain steps be taken, certain fire suppression systems to be installed, as well as regular maintenance of equipment.
While no property is 100 percent secure against fire and smoke, property owners who focus on preventative maintenance can help to reduce the risk of loss and damage. Lack of preventive maintenance and cleanliness are often the two biggest causes of fire and smoke damage.
Preventative maintenance tips include:
- Make sure fire suppression systems are functioning and up to code.
- Make sure fire suppression systems have the reach they are designed to have so that they are effective against a fire.
- Know where your utility shutoffs are located and how to use them.
- Make sure electrical items/machines are serviced and maintained regularly to avoid malfunctions or shorts.
- Keep high-risk areas clean and free of clutter and fire hazards.
- CREATE AND MAINTAIN AN ESCAPE PLAN SO OCCUPANTS CAN EXIT SAFELY.
Fire And Smoke Damage – Looking Ahead
Because different parts of the country have different weather, climates and population densities, it’s important to understand the risks associated with the region where the property is located.
Commercial properties in high-density areas may at higher risk due to their proximity to nearby buildings. While buildings in more humid areas may be at a lower risk of fire, buildings in hotter and drier regions may be at higher risk. The same can be said for buildings in forested areas due to the risk of wildfire.
Wherever a property is located, the best way to reduce the chance of fire and smoke damage is to take preventative steps and to understand any risk factors that may affect the property. This article is a great first step towards understanding what is at stake and what to do in the event damage occurs to ensure the property is restored effectively.