Fire Damage Clean Up
Fire Restoration Tech.
After having worked many years in this industry I learned a lot of things about dealing with different types of personal property damage. Let me start by saying that the job title “ Fire Restoration Tech” is a little misleading because fire damage is only one of the areas that I dealt with. As often as fire we were called out to help with water or sewer issues, puff backs (when something in the furnace fouls up and soot is puffed back through the heating vents), vandalism, storm damage, and I have even been called out to clean up a few crime scenes.
Some of the work I was able to do in this field was very rewarding. Some of the jobs where just a pain in the brain, but I learned something from evryone of them because even though it is a fire job not all fires are alike. They are however all dealt with in basically the same way.
The beginning of any of these jobs is all basically the same. Contact your Insurance Company! Chances are really good that your insurance company already has a list of restoration companies they deal with in your area. In emergent cases where your property needs to be secured for safety reasons or to protect valuables your agent is likely to go to his\her list and call the company they have had the best relationship with to come out immediately and board up the property or secure it the best way possible.
The company I worked for was a small company. The work crews consisted of three full time carpenters two full time cleaners and two full time estimators. The Estimators were always the first ones called and their job was to determine the best way to salvage the most property. From there they called whichever crew or crews needed to do the job.
The structure is insured but not the content? Yep that’s right. This happens a lot mostly to people who rent and have not purchased “Renters Insurance”. Believe me when I tell you it only took one of these for me to rush right out and buy renters insurance.
For those of you that cannot or do not have sufficient insurance for whatever reason, or property owners that need to know what to expect, this is for you!
What to do First?
The board up is easy. Secure all possible points of entry. The pack out is a little more intensive. No matter what the cause of the damage a pack out crew should always make a complete detailed list of personal possessions being removed from the damaged area. In most cases if the entire structure was not damaged we preferred to keep content on site. Very little actual cleaning or repairing is done at this time BUT there are things that will require immediate attention to be salvaged.
Smoke, and soot, are all extremely corrosive and harmful to metal and electronics. The 100-year-old brass chandelier can be saved as long as it is cleaned properly immediately.
Cleaning soot and smoke off of metal is relatively easy and needs to be done immediately. You will need Chem Sponges, a good de-greaser, warm water, Vaseline, and lots of rags. Chem Sponges can be purchased at any local paint store and are used first to remove any dry residue on the article being cleaned. These sponges are special made for soot and intended to be used dry. Next a solution of de-greaser and warm water to clean off any smoke it is important to use the mildest solution that works for this. Dry the article thoroughly and then if like the chandelier it cannot be moved to an uncontaminated area, it will need to be covered with a thick coat of Vaseline for protection. The Vaseline can later be cleaned of with dry cloth and a mild soap solution. Valuable jewelry can be cleaned in the same manner but should be removed from the property for safe keeping until the restoration is complete.
Some electronics, dads $10.00 alarm clock or the $30.00 cell phone will probably not be worth the money it takes to salvage them. High-end electronics stereos, televisions, camera equipment, and small kitchen appliances can be and should be salvaged. This equipment should be left as they are and taken to a reputable electronics repair shop ASAP. Understand this! Wherever air goes smoke and soot will go. It is worth the cost to have professionals take care of this correctly. We did a job where the renter chose not to take care of their electronics and six month later we were back because of a fire caused by the television.
If there is no electric in the structure it is important to remove and DISCARD any food in the refrigerator. Canned and jarred food will be okay as long as they were far, far away from the heat of the fire. Boxed food should all be discarded. Freezer food is most likely ok if it has not been thawed but needs to be kept frozen.
Other Content Smoked but not Burned
Photographs can be cleaned. If they are wet the will need to be dried first then use a Chem Sponge to remove soot and then clean lightly with rubbing alcohol. This is delicate work it is important not to over wet the photo. Books and paper can be cleaned with a Chem Sponge to remove the soot but will probably always be stained from the smoke since you cannot wet them.
Laundry can be washed as usual with the addition of a little degreaser and odor remover added to it.
Upholstered furnishings should be gone over with Chem Sponge first then steam-cleaned using degreaser and odor remover.
Wooden and Leather furniture also requires the Chem Sponge and then a mild solution of Murphy’s Oil Soap
Anything that you would normally have dry-cleaned can be cleaned by your dry cleaner in this situation.
Dishes and glassware can be easily handled with dish detergent and bleach.
Plastic is best cleaned by using cool water as hot water will open up the pores and set the stains
Fire turns to Water
It is also important to remember that most fire damage will also be water damage. Paper, books, and photos should be frozen if they cannot be dried immediately. Larger items will need to be dried quickly with air movers rented from any rental shop.
This is the only problem that cannot be easily solved by doing it your self. While it is true that correctly cleaning will help to diminish the smoke odor. Most often restoration professionals will use ozone to eliminate smoke odor from personal belongings. Ozone generators change the molecular structure of oxygen from O2 to O3 thus creating an environment that kills odor. They are most effective when used in a sealed room that is free of contamination.
It is possible to rent an ozone generator but please follow all user instructions carefully as they can be dangerous when used improperly.
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