Like The Phoenix Rising From The Ashes
The beautiful home in this case study is nestled high atop 35 acres of gently rolling hills in Mid-Missouri. During the initial inspection, the ambient air had a pungent odor of fire, as the smoke residual particles were still wafting through the air. Power was out and the uncomfortably excessive humidity of a typical Missouri summer day was so thick it could be cut with a dull knife.
Unusual construction changes the standards for cleaning and preserving the building materials.
In July 2016, I began looking for office space that would allow me to move my office from my home. I heard though a friend about a house on Main Street, Boonville, MO. He informed me it had some problems but to look at it. Indeed, the house had some mold and water damage but, the house was in structurally good condition. This original part of the house was built in approximately 1855.
Upon taking possession of the property, I contacted Ivan Turner, with Disaster Brigade, USA. Ivan used air scrubbers and dehumidifiers, and sold me a product called Unsmoke Unsoot #1 with encapsulant. I used the Unsmoke to clean and seal the ceiling and floor joists. After spraying the wood with Unsmoke, I cleaned wood with low pressure a water power washer. There was almost complete demolition of the basement area which allowed for easy access to the ceiling and floor joists. This resulted in restoring the wood to almost original condition, and it was some of the most beautiful wood I have seen.
In August 2016, I received a fire loss assignment on a house with native cut lumber. In addition to the native cut lumber, which had not been sealed, the insured had some health problems and was on oxygen. The insureds were very concerned about getting 100% of the smoke odor removed, while preserving the beautiful wood in their home.
The origin of the fire was electrical in a corner of the basement. There was some fire with damage to the basement area. The main level and upper level of the dwelling had only smoke damage.
I obtained permission to have Ivan Turner look at the property and give his opinion on how to clean and restore the insured property to pre-loss condition.
After leaving the property, I called the office manager and informed her it was going to take at least six months to clean using standard cleaning methods, and gave her an estimated cost to clean and restore the property. I then called Ivan and set up an appointment with him for the next morning.
After returning to my office, I did considerable internet research on how to clean native cut lumber without a finish. I finally came across an article from a restoration contractor who stated he used Fanastik Heavy Duty All Purpose Cleaner and sprayed it on the wood. I purchased two bottle of Fantastik to test it on the wood in the house I was in the process of restoring. The areas tested with the Fantastik did not clean as well as the areas I had cleaned with the Unsmoke.
Even after doing the testing with the Fantastik, I was still uncertain how the smoke odor could be removed, the wood cleaned, and how to protect the beautiful oak wood floors in this house.
After several hours of sleep, I awoke and started thinking about how we could apply the Unsmoke, protect the floors and not destroy the beauty of the wood. After a couple of hours of consideration about the risks associated with using Unsmoke and water to clean the wood, I had an idea that we could protect the floors by building a swimming pool inside each room and installing a pump to remove the water and Unsmoke as rapidly as possible.
The next morning I met Ivan and we discussed how to clean the wood and I informed him that I wanted him to build a swimming pool to protect the wood floors, if all possible. Ivan looked at me in disbelief and later told me he thought I had to be kidding.
We proceeded to the insured property and along with the insured inspected all the visible damage. Ivan suggested testing several areas with the Unsmoke product before making a final decision. The insured was agreeable to the testing. Next I called the office manager and got her approval to proceed with the testing.
There was considerable risk in getting the wood too wet and causing irregular staining or worse yet, a mold problem. If the wood dried too quickly the wood could have split or cracked. All of the dust, dirt and smoke had to be removed from all the existing cracks, nooks and imperfections in the wood.
All the tests were successful, and the decision was made to proceed with cleaning the house using the Unsmoke and low pressure water cleaning. The cleaning of the house and restoration of the fire damage took less than four months and was approximately $45,000.00 less than what I had originally quoted the office manage when I had first inspected the fire and smoke damage. The insured and his wife were pleased with the complete restoration of the home and removal of the entire smoke odor.
Unusual construction requires different cleaning methods to preserve the beauty of the building materials while protecting the quality of the construction and returning the property to pre-loss conditions.
Norm Richert, has been adjusting property losses for over thirty-six years. Norm, owns and operates Central Consulting & Adjusting Services, Inc. in Boonville, MO. He provides adjusting and risk management services to central Missouri. Norm also has developed a telescopic pole/camera system to obtain photos in difficult to access areas up to 29’ above ground
Randomly ask ten professional restorers if all fire damaged projects are the same and you will likely hear ten out of ten emphatically state “No two fires are alike”, and that’s for good reason too. Fire damage to a property, along with the obnoxious smoke residual particles with the associated odor in and of itself brings a multitude of potential complications that are often times unseen until well into the process of restoration. Not to mention the dynamics involved in dealing with emotionally charged insureds, who in the flash of a moment had their lives forever altered. While catch phrases like Servpro’s® “Like It Never Even Happened®” are a brilliant play on words, the undeniable truth is that property owners afflicted by a fire damage will never forget such a life changing event.
The same restorers would also note, that for any complex insurance restoration project to come to a successful close the stars have to be aligned and for alignment the following dynamics must be in place.
I have had the great pleasure and experience of working with many insurance claims professionals’, independent and captive alike throughout my 25-year vocation. Some employ a rigid approach to claims handling while others take more of a lackadaisical approach. Either approach can work well, so long as the end result is that the insured is made whole at the completion of the project. One claims professional in particular that I have worked with on a multitude of losses for the past 15 – 18 years is Norm Richert with Central Consulting and Adjusting based out of Booneville Missouri. Everything from water damage claims to mold remediation projects to fire damage, ranging from the rudimentary to the complex. Undeniably, Mr. Richert is considered a thought leader and innovator in the claims processing space.
- An engaged agency. The agency in this case study communicated on a regular basis with the insured. The agency and adjuster communicated on a weekly basis as progress was being charted.
- An adjuster who possesses the mastery required to successfully navigate the insured through the obligations of the Insurer, in a manner whereby the insured readily accepts the settlement and continues to be a raving fan of the Brand. In this case study, the adjuster maintained an open line of communications with the insured. Through the duration of the project the adjuster made multiple site visits for inspection. The adjuster had weekly briefings with the restoration contractor. Some via telephone, some through texting, some in person and some through email.
- An empathetic Restoration Professional that has in-depth knowledge of building nomenclature, a great team of skilled tradesmen and a respectable understanding and application of proven “Best Practices” and adequate communication skills. In this case study, the restoration contractor and the insured had daily contact and communication. The insured is retired and found enjoyment from being on site each day.
- Insured buy in is critical. Without early buy in, a fire damage project can be akin to a ride on a carnival tilt-a-whirl after having gorged at a cheap all you can eat Mexican Buffett. Insured buy in is an intentional objective that comes from setting clear expectations and by providing exceptional communications between the insured, the adjuster and the Restoration Contractor. It’s comparable to a three-way marriage and with any marriage, a lack of communications will surely lead to dis-trust, animosity and ultimately divorce. With great communications, the three-way marriage is harmonious and lives happily ever after.
As Norm and I were walking through the three-level property assessing damages, taking pictures, notes and measurements, I was asked. Ivan, have you ever done a fire damage job on a property like this? Of course, my answer was a resounding no. Little did I know at that moment that my mind was being shaped as a great sculpture molds a malleable ball of clay into a work of art.
The truth is that I have never seen non-conventional construction similar to this risk outside of resorts or lodges which are usually located in vacation destinations like Vail or Aspen Colorado. Without pause, Norm asked if I thought all of the very seasoned and unfinished wood from ceiling to floor could be washed with a brew of specialized chemicals and water. At this point, with a furrowed brow I’m still listening, but thinking to myself – okay, I’ll be your huckleberry and hear you out. He went into further detail painting a picture in my mind by suggesting that perhaps building a swimming pool to catch the water and chemical mix, then pumping the waste out doors and controlling the elevated humidity through the use of dehumidification and air movement could be employed. Of course, I knew that he was referring to building a catch basin made of rubber membrane similar to those used for outdoor water features. None the less, for a fleeting moment I believed that for a lack of a better word, Norm had gone “Bat Shit” crazy.
Without commitment, I departed the property and began the one-and-a-half-hour trek back to my office. During the drive, I did a great deal of contemplating whether or not I should accept this high-risk assignment. I was inundated with declarations from my better and my not so better angels, as they were fighting equally for my undivided attention. One like a screeching magpie was saying repeatedly – Ivan - don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it! You know that building a wash basin, then applying copious amounts of chemical and water onto hand harvested oak planks with the unique patina that only the ages can create, will stain terribly, which in turn will cause the early buy in insured to rush to the money cage, cash in and have me eight sixed, which will be the cause of your downward spiral and ultimate ruin. The opposing angel just as brash and adamant of making a point, was screaming out – just do it, just do it, just do it and prove yourself wrong. Pansies are fine in the flower garden, not in the high stakes field of disaster restoration. For it is better to venture into the unknown, fail and ask for forgiveness, than to retreat from a challenge of the unknown and be labeled a pansie.
I was reminded of a quote from the great Greek Philosopher Aristotle – “No great mind has ever existed without a touch of madness” – And so with that, the game was on!
Any fire damage project will involve several elements, each on their own having a direct impact on the overall project.
Step 1. This case study commenced with three days of exploration and aggressive testing with the intent of locating any and all areas with hidden smoke residue. The ceiling peak in the colossal great room was 26 feet in height requiring the use of scaffolding. Testing involved recreating as close as possible to the morning of the fire by introducing a commonly used process referred to as Thermo Fogging “imitation smoke”, also used as an odor counteractant, for the purpose of having first-hand knowledge of what paths the real smoke during the fire may have taken. To assume that smoke residual particles had found their way to the back side of the interior walls and insulation, would have been mere conjecture in the absence of testing. Therefore, several of the planks on walls in each of the rooms were gingerly dismantled for the purpose of testing for residual soot using dry sponges and wet towels. Testing proved that the back side of the planks and the exterior walls of the structure had narrowly avoided residue contamination, which of course would have completely changed the outcome of the repair plan.
The main level and upper level of the property had very little sheet rock. Even so, we removed some in each of the areas, once again to determine what if any smoke related damage was in the wall cavities.
Step 2. After testing, all areas of the property were cleaned using a process known as Air Washing. High compressed air was applied to all surfaces, vertical and horizontal to dislodge dust and smoke residue particles.
Step 3. After air washing the structure, we began the process of wet chemically cleaning all surfaces, vertical and horizontal using a power sprayer rated at 150 PSI to emulsify the smoke residue and capture the waste in the catch basin.
Step 4. After wet cleaning of all surfaces, vertical and horizontal we began the process of applying a wood encapsulation product directly to the surfaces. This process was repeated for a second time seven days after the first encapsulation.
Step 5. After the above listed were completed the hard wood floors throughout the main and upper level were hand cleaned and sealed with two top coats of polyurethane.
It is said that in Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. Sources believe the phoenix dies in a colorful show of flames and combustion. Associated with the Sun, a phoenix obtains his new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.
I don’t know that there has ever been a time in my professional life where I felt as close of a symbolic affinity to the Phoenix as I did on the journey and ultimate completion of this project. For you see, the Phoenix obtained new life by rising from the ashes of his predecessor and re birth means new life and new life means the opportunity to try new things, and to try new things is to learn a better way and to learn a better way is the pathway to breaking the enslavement chains of normalcy.
Ivan Turner is the founder and President of Disaster Brigade, USA. Founded by Veterans, the firm services 14 mid Missouri counties with water damage, mold remediation & fire damage. The company has also mobilized to multiple large scale catastrophic events from St. Louis Missouri and as far away as Boston Massachusetts for drying services on the heels of the epic 7 foot snow storm in 2015. Mr. Turner has been retained as an expert witness in multiple cases of litigation relating to construction defects, mold, and water damage and contractor negligence. Turner is a published author of - I Broke The Code, So Can You! A story of one man’s rise from obscurity to a place of prominence in the cleaning and restoration industry. He may be reached at 573-291-0234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information visit www.disasterbrigadeusa.com