Often people associate “fire season” with winter, and reasonably so: holiday trees, misused space heaters, and candles are common causes of fire disasters. But in fact, most of the National Fire Protection Association’s top causes of residential and industrial fires are year-round hazards. Across both categories, some of the most common fire dangers are cooking equipment, heating equipment, dryers, electrical and lighting equipment, arson, smoking materials and lightening.
Even the best precautions cannot eliminate all risk of fire in homes and businesses. Should the unthinkable happen, then what? What do you do after the fire trucks have left, and you’ve ensured the safety of people and pets? How do you map your path back to normalcy?
- Talk to your insurance agent before anyone else. Independent contractors and public adjusters may quickly approach you to handle your fire disaster recovery. But they don’t know you, your policy coverages, or your needs. Your insurance agent is experienced in dealing with property emergencies and can make sure you’re aware of your coverage options, and they can recommend qualified remediation and restoration companies to help you get your property back to pre-disaster condition. They can also help you identify coverages you might have for food, clothing and shelter assistance.
- Secure the property and prevent further damage. Even after the fire is out, property and contents damage can continue. Water left behind from firefighting efforts become a source of mold and mildew growth, and chemicals used can damage surfaces and contents. Soot and ash create air quality hazards. Unsound roofs and floors can cave in. Unsecured property is susceptible to looting. Emergency mitigation is a job left to experts: look for property restoration firms who specialize in this area. They should be able to provide fencing, shoring, and board ups, and have the equipment and experience for proper water extraction and dry outs. They will also be able to begin demolition and remove fire debris, and get you in a position to move on to rebuilding your home or business.
- Collect damage information. It’s best to begin documentation as early as possible. Take many pictures of the damage, up close and wide-range. Ask your mitigation experts to photograph interior and structural damage before demolition. Be sure to photograph affected contents and equipment as they are brought out of the building, especially if they are heading to a dumpster. You’ll want to build an inventory of all damaged and discarded contents to support insurance claims.
- Clean undamaged items and move to safety. To facilitate repairs and rebuilding, you’ll want to move unaffected furniture, equipment and possessions out of the way. Even though they may not be fire damaged or scorched, it’s likely that most items will have some degree of soot or smoke contamination or water damage. Nothing should be packed away without proper cleaning to eliminate odor and other contaminants. This type of cleaning often needs professional attention, especially when leather, upholstery, rugs and electrical equipment is involved. Be certain to check before discarding items of any real or sentimental value, because today’s contents cleaning technologies can undo even significant smoke, soot and water damage.
- Remove smoke and soot throughout the building. Cleaning after a fire is not a straightforward task. Burning different materials creates different kinds of smoke that need specific types of cleaning. Different building materials on floors and walls and cabinetry call for different cleaning materials. The most challenging aspect is removing smoke from crawl spaces, attics and HVAC systems where harmful odor-causing residue will be found. A reliable restoration company will be able to provide comprehensive smoke and soot removal services to ensure that all surfaces and systems can be returned to pre-fire condition.
At this point, most damaged property should have been safely and thoroughly eliminated, and you will be in a position to move on to rebuilding the affected areas of the building as a final step to normalcy. Be sure to keep all receipts and records of work performed and maintain in close contact with your insurance carrier throughout the mitigation and recovery process.
Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. is a premier provider of emergency response, remediation and disaster recovery for fire, flood, environmental spills and biohazards in the New Jersey-Philadelphia-New York City area. With IRS included in an organization’s Emergency Response Plan (ERP), businesses will have a pre-qualified contractor with a master services agreement, pricing and insurance in place before a disaster occurs.