Steps to Take After Fire And Smoke Damage
Repairing and restoring a commercial property after a fire or smoke incident is no picnic. But with the right planning and resources in place, things can go a whole lot smoother with fewer delays, ensuring operations resume sooner.
Any fire, no matter how small, can have serious implications for a business or commercial property.
Understanding what makes up smoke and fire damage, what one should do if it occurs and what steps can be taken to minimize risk is something every property owner should consider. Doing so can help expedite the commercial fire damage restoration and smoke damage restoration processAnd even reduce the amount of work that needs to be done.
What Is Fire Damage?
Generally, fire damage involves anything that flames or soot have come in contact with, including the structure and any objects or materials. With a fire, structural damage is always a concern and may require additional structural engineering and safety protocols to repair.
In commercial facilities, office buildings and multifamily residences, it is especially important to perform testing of soot or smoke to determine whether any toxins exist that could prove harmful to occupants. A restoration professional is your best resource for this type of service.
What Is Smoke Damage?
Unlike fire damage, smoke damage can exist even without the presence of flames. For example, an employee might accidentally cook a microwave meal too long in the breakroom, resulting in smoke and odor that spreads throughout the floor – or worse, gets into the HVAC system and circulates throughout the entire building. With smoke damage, more direct cleaning is needed to reduce the amount of particulates in the air and eliminate odors.
What is the best way to determine whether smoke damage has occurred? The general rule of thumb is that if smoke is circulating to the point where it can be smelled, there is significant likelihood that smoke damage is present. If that’s the case, call a restoration professional.
Fire And/Or Smoke Damage Has Occurred – Now What?
If a property owner suspects damage has occurred, the first thing they should do is notify their insurance carrier so a claim can be created as well as to ensure the damage will be covered. They may also need to get an all-clear from the fire department or in some cases, the insurance carrier, before they can enter the property. In every fire, no matter how small, a cause will have to be identified. In a more complex scenario, a fire investigation might take days, weeks or even months to complete.
Depending on the damage or the type of building, a structural engineer or industrial hygienist may need to be consulted to ensure the property is safe to enter and that restoration can begin. In some cases, additional engineers and consultants may be called to assess damage in areas such as:
- Electrical systems
- HVAC systems
- Manufacturing equipment
In incidents of smoke damage, a cause may be much easier to identify. If the cause of the smoke is related to a piece of equipment or electrical system, the property owner should consult with the proper professional to make the repairs and eliminate the risk it will happen again.
General Process Of Addressing Fire And Smoke Damage
Even before the all-clear has been given, it is always a good idea to notify restoration professionals so that they can gather information about what has occurred and formulate a response.
For commercial properties, they will also want to know what kind of business it is and what, if any, hazardous materials might be present so they can bring the proper equipment and safety gear.
They may even be able to perform an initial assessment of select “all-clear” areas to get things moving even before the whole property has been cleared. The general process is as follows:
- Contact a restoration professional and provide information about the property and what has occurred.
- The restoration company will dispatch a response team to perform an assessment of the property and determine necessary steps/resources.
- If water is present, this will be extracted first to prevent further damage.
- Restoration begins on any areas or items that can be restored to their pre-fire/smoke condition.
- Areas that cannot be restored due to excessive damage are demolished.
- An assessment is made of areas that need to be repaired with new materials, such as drywall, flooring, doors, molding/trim, carpeting, etc.
Where smoke damage is extensive, the smoke damage restoration process and smoke restoration cleaning may become job one so the property is safe to work in. This includes the use of air scrubbers to absorb odors and particulates, surface cleaning to remove soot and grease, as well as sealing walls to prevent odor from escaping so they are safe to paint later.
The assessment itself will depend on several factors, including:
- The size/type of structure
- Materials that may be present inside (e.g., asbestos, carcinogens, hazardous chemicals, combustible substances, etc.)
- The infrastructure involved (e.g., multiple HVAC systems, elevators, electrical systems, etc.)
- The type and severity of damage that has occurred
One of the major advantages to using restoration professionals is that they can create a containment area to help isolate the damage and prevent it from spreading to additional areas. This will help to reduce the amount of work that needs to be done later.
Water and fire damage repair often go hand-in-hand. In a post-fire scenario, water used by a fire department or sprinkler system will need to be removed as soon as possible to prevent further damage such as mold. A restoration professional can perform an assessment to determine how far the water has traveled outside of the initial area. Additional steps include:
- Removing carpet and carpet padding so that it can be dried and cleaned, 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
What Not To Do After Fire/Smoke Damage
The worst thing a property owner can do is to begin cleaning after fire or smoke damage or begin odor disbursement without first consulting a restoration professional. Instructing employees or janitorial staff to turn on fans or clean surfaces with everyday off-the-shelf cleaners can be highly problematic.
A fan or active HVAC system can spread odor and particulates over a larger area, and worse, contaminate a previously uncontaminated area. Everyday cleaning products or solvents can even make some damage worse.
Ultimately, the best course of action is to remove the occupants from the affected area and call a restoration professional. Failure to do so could increase the amount of work that needs to be done, with higher costs and a longer recovery period.
Advantages To Using A Restoration Professional
The goal of any reputable restoration professional is to restore the property to its pre-fire or pre-smoke damage condition in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible in the least amount of time. This is especially important for commercial and manufacturing facilities, businesses, hospitals, and multifamily residences since they can’t make money if they don’t operate.
Restoration professionals will also have access to many types of equipment and resources an insurance company or general contractor will not. Depending on their experience and skill level, they may also be certified in specialized areas of cleanup and restoration, and they will understand the rules, regulations and codes as required by law.
For example, some states restrict how and where wastewater and building materials can be disposed. And what permits may be required before restoration or repair can begin.
It is much easier and more cost-effective for a property or business owner to hire someone who knows these ins and outs rather than waste precious time and resources trying it to tackle the restoration themselves.
The Best Offence Is A Good Defense
A commercial property owner may also want to consider contacting restoration professionals to perform an assessment of the property and identify high-risk areas before an incident occurs. They can help formulate a response plan to determine the best course of action should disaster strike. Some steps include:
- Identifying location of shutoffs for all utilities and location of fire suppression systems, alarms, and extinguishers
- Identifying any hazardous chemicals or materials that may impact firefighting efforts or slow restoration efforts
- Getting point-of-contact information for all utility companies, fire suppression systems and property management stakeholders
- Coordinating with stakeholders to determine who is in charge of important decision-making to reduce downtime
- Identifying potential restoration/repair equipment or resources that may be required in the event of an incident
- Formulating a response plan that can be put into motion once an incident occurs
A commercial property owner may also want to consider entering into a service agreement with a restoration professional to ensure top priority in the event of an incident. With the intensity and frequency of weather events trending upwards, this kind of advanced preparation comes in especially handy in high-risk regions prone to wildfires, floods, or hurricanes.
In fact in Northern California, a large e-commerce retailer did exactly that. When smoke from a major forest fire whipped through the region, the company’s restoration partner was able to supply fans, air scrubbers and specialized HEPA charcoal filters to maintain healthy air quality and operate safely inside their facilities.
With a service agreement in place, a commercial property owner can feel confident knowing that the equipment and resources they need to get back up and running quickly will be available when demand is high.
Don’t Get Caught Unprepared
If commercial property is damaged or can’t function as intended, then money often can’t be made. And that’s a major issue for a business of any size.
Although fire and smoke can be particularly destructive, understanding the risks, processes and steps one can take to reduce the possibility or severity of an incident can go a long way toward quickly getting a business up and running – and making money – again.