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Flood/water restoration is part of community recovery

Fires cause Home and Business owners to face the anguish of losing prized valuables, photographs, documents, even special items that may be low in cost but high in sentimental value for parents or children who understand that replacement with a new item is not always the best option.

Most people who have never experienced the impact of fire, understand that it’s probably the most traumatic and distressing event they will ever likely experience. Within the industry, we genuinely care about getting people back on their feet again.

That is where the role of the Restoration company comes into its own. This is not to say that everything is restorable as there are some items in a fire that will be damaged beyond repair and deemed beyond salvage, but for those items deemed potentially salvageable, the restorer has a very good chance of successfully restoring the damaged structure or contents.

Types of fire

There are two types of damage that may occur during a fire. The most obvious is direct contact which will singe, char or lead to thermal damage. The second sees the consequences of searing heat, with acrid smoke and the odours they produce. To mitigate the potential fire hazard spreading, the Fire Brigade will need to put out the flames with water or chemicals which inevitably leads to further challenges in restoring the structure/contents and drying the affected areas to prevent secondary damage, such as mould.

To restore a Sentimental item often means more to a home owner than replacement.

Role of the restorer – commercial and domestic

Upon the premises being extinguished by the fire brigade and the site deemed safe to enter, an initial inspection is undertaken to assess the level of damages and determine the appropriate restoration regime required to return the contents and structure back to pre-loss condition. The inspection includes the following;

Moisture damage caused by activated sprinkler heads in commercial premises can often be successfully dried and restored.

  • Any surface water is immediately extracted with a bulk clean up so that the drying process can commence.
  • Determine where temporary containment is to be installed. This is important to ensure that the fire and water damage will not cross contaminate unaffected areas. These areas are then placed under positive pressure with fans to ensure that this does not happen during the restoration process.
  • Thermal camera technology and moisture meter testing equipment will identify all structurally wet areas.
  • Air filtration devices fitted with hepa filters are used to improve the indoor air quality of those technicians charged with the restoring and decontaminating the premises
  • If fire escapes are blocked a new evacuation plan is determined until these can be later reinstated by others.
  • All internal and external floor, ceiling and wall claddings are test cleaned to determine their salvageability, and are often cleanable using high pressure water, dry ice, soda blasting or even dry chemical sponge’s. Often the post cleaning finished result which is now free of contaminates, will require repainting.
  • If structural alterations are required Local Councils will need to be notified to secure permits.
  • Determine if any lift access is required (portable scaffold, scissor lift etc. to undertake works safely to comply with OH&S legislation.
  • Determine a scope of works and a quote to complete is submitted usually within 2-3 days and await approval from the insurer.

In the meantime, any structural collapses such as plasterboard ceilings, insulation etc. are quickly removed and disposed of and a “make safe” performed with the insurer’s approval. In some circumstances, an “emergency clean” can also be undertaken to prevent any further loss and this may allow the insured’s/property owners to remain living in the home for the time being if temporary accommodation has not been recommended by the restorer.

Sprinklers will reduce the effects of fire, but resultant water damage to a commercial business can be treated by a qualified Restorer.

Being timely in response will minimize further damage. Depending on the value of the claim, an Insurance agent or broker will normally contact the Restorer to attend site with the assessor.

Any structural collapses such as plasterboard ceilings are quickly removed and disposed of and this is called a “make safe” of the area.

In terms of contents, an inventory of non-salvageable items is completed along with the insured’s permission to dispose of these items. A matching photographic inventory is also provided. This would be sent to the insurer to determine how they will reimburse the customer to the value of the items. It is advisable to check the value of your policy to ensure you are adequately insured for building and contents as underinsurance can lead to potential coverage limitations. Updating the value of your Building and Contents policy annually should be considered.

It is also advisable to take a list with photographs of your household contents especially jewelry and high-end valuables.

Once approval is received from the Insurer, immediate contact is made with the insured / property owner to take possession of a key for access and a key safe is installed for security. Security fences are then installed if required. Containment of the area is undertaken and placed under positive pressure to ensure the home is not infiltrated by smoke and soot outside the impacted area.

If power has been interrupted to the property, it is the duty of the Insurer to provide an electrician to perform a check and isolate power as necessary to “make safe”. Reinstatement of power is to be provided if possible prior to cleaning and restoration works can commence. Alternatively, the restorer may have to organize a suitable generator for the duration of the works along with temporary lighting.

For restorers, this is the first step in the process before drying can commence.

There is usually a team of restorers that will undertake a detailed clean of your structural building materials fixtures and fittings. For a minor fire in contents, a cleanup on-site in a designated “clean room” should be completed in an unaffected area for storage.

Alternatively, in larger loss situations contents will be removed to our warehouse facility or other local suitable storage sites for of site cleaning, deodorizing and storage till the premises are ready to be re-occupied.

If you engage professional removalists, they will pack and correctly load and unload your valuable items and contents to minimize the potential for breakages.

Restoration takes place only on items that can be economically restored. Each item is inspected to determine if restorable and if it can be done for less that the cost to replace.

The exception to the rule is for sentimental items which the homeowner or business has identified that they want this item kept regardless.

Once the cleaning commences, the way it is treated depends on the type of fire. Different treatments are used on different types of fires such as protein, oil, paper, and electrical fires. Residues on the contents and carpets are often difficult to remove so it is necessary that a professional is used.

It is important to work in close cohesion with the Fire Brigade once the fire has been extinguished.

Deodorizing structures and contents is undertaken through utilizing many different technologies which may include, ulv fogging, odour counteracting crystals and liquids, ozone and hydroxyl generators that can neutralize the odours. Thorough ventilation of the areas following the treatment is required. It may be necessary for the restorer to reattend to provide secondary odour control measures to the home or business on completion of the building reinstatement works.

Moisture testing of all affected building substrates ensures that the property is subjected to a target “dry standard” reached upon successful completion of drying.

Once the restorers scope of works has been completed a walk through with the client is undertaken and the completed works are signed off, with advice to the builder that the building reinstatement works can commence.

Restored contents items are then returned into the home or business via professional removalists.

Some prevention tips

Many of the techniques you can use have been well documented by the Fire Brigade’s and industry advisors but are worth reiterating within this article.

  • Have working smoke alarms that will detect smoke and provide early opportunities to escape a fire. Batteries should also be changed every six months usually around daylight savings time.
  • Cooking appliances and becoming distracted whilst in the kitchen are a leading cause of fires within the home. Buying a fire blanket or small chemical/ dry powder extinguisher will ensure you can minimize the possibility of the fire spreading and contain the damage as much as possible.
  • Have adequate Building and Contents Insurance for your Home and Business that covers any potential loss.
  • Cut your lawns and dense shrubbery around your home during the summer months to minimize the possibility of fires extending to your home.
  • In rural areas, have a fire plan that all family members are familiar with.

The main message however is that all is not lost in most fires. A reputable Restorer can help reinstate your home or business back to its pre-event condition quickly and efficiently.

For more information, go to www.fra.com.au

Article written by

Neville White
Neville White is a Director of FRA and Senior Project Manager specializing in Fire, Water and Mould with over 20 years’ experience in the industry.
Peter Behm
Peter Behm is the National Marketing Manager with FRA and was formerly in the Corporate sector working for blue chip companies such as AAMI and the Suncorp Group.
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