WHAT IS INVOLVED IN THE FIRE DAMAGE CLEAN UP?
Fire damage cleanup is a multi-step, challenging process that often includes addressing water damage, fire damage, and smoke damage.
Depending on the severity of the fire and the heat of the blaze, it is also possible that the home or commercial property also has structural damage or may need to have an emergency board up services to protect it from the outside elements.
THINGS TO KNOW
ABOUT FIRE DAMAGE CLEANUP
Before you begin the fire damage cleanup process, here are 10 important things to know:
Experiencing a fire can be extremely stressful. Your mind is probably reeling with the reality of what has happened, paralyzed about what to do next, and overwhelmed with the number of things that need to be done now.
Take a deep breath. Understand that you are now at the very beginning of a long process.
Right now it feels like things are out of your control.
You don’t know where to start and you long to have things “back to normal.”
As much as you can, try to relax into your feelings. You will feel sad. You will feel scared. This is normal. Instead of fighting these negative emotions or resisting what has happened, allow yourself to feel your feelings, grieve the loss of what was, and process what has happened.
There aren’t very many things as devastating as a house fire.
It may feel like your world just went up in smoke. But as bad as you feel right now, we want you to know that everything will be okay.
Over the years, we have seen countless clients go through this experience and even though this is one of the hardest days of their lives, things do get better and return to normal.
It is likely that the fire damage cleanup process will take longer than you would like. We would all like to snap our fingers and have things repaired, safe, and clean.
However, the fire damage cleanup process takes time and patience.
Stress and worry will not make cleanup go faster or allow you to return to your property any quicker.
If you understand this from the outset, it may help you to accept the process and trust that everything is going the way it should.
As difficult as it is, tries not to let your mind run away with fear, overwhelm, or anxiety. Try to narrow your focus and concentrate on one day and one decision at a time.
There is so much in the cleanup process that you cannot control. You cannot change what has happened, or minimize the extent of the cleanup, but you can just take one day at a time, do what needs to be done that day, knowing that eventually things will be back to normal.
You don’t have to do everything all at once. Focus on one step at a time by asking yourself, “What can I do today?” And remember, that sometimes all we can do that day is patiently wait.
After you call 911, the next call you should make is to your insurance agent. They will play a vital role in helping initiate the cleanup process.
Inform them of your fire and then ask them what steps you need to take immediately.
The faster they can be informed, the faster you can have help from a restoration company and prevent further damage.
The insurance company may need to give you authorization to get that help.
For example, depending on the amount of damage and the structural integrity of the home, if the fire was small, having water mitigation services performed may prevent further damage like mold.
Though the flames of the fire caused damage, some of the damage to your home will be a result of the firefighters doing their work to put out the fire.
It is not uncommon for firefighters to break windows or cut holes in the roof or walls allow for ventilation in order to slow down the fire’s growth.
These holes make it possible for dark smoke to escape to make it easier for firefighters to do their job and see what is happening.
Additionally, firefighters use hundreds of gallons of water to douse the flames. Obviously, the water sprayed inside your home will cause damage. If there isn’t significant structural damage and the fire department says the property is safe to enter, removing any standing water will mitigate further damage.
Another example is in securing your property. If the doors and windows are damaged by the fire or by the firefighters, you will need to board up the property to prevent theft and vandalism and to prevent anyone from entering the property when it may not be safe to do so.
Your insurance agent can authorize you to get this process started and also authorize a restoration company to help you secure your property with tarps or boards. When you call your agent, the primary things to ask about is the timetable for addressing the water damage and getting help to securing your property by properly covering the windows, doors, or exposed roof areas.
After these initial concerns (minimizing water damage and addressing security concerns) are resolved, your insurance agent will help you file a claim so that cleanup work can begin, professionals can be called in, and so that eventually your property and belongings can be completely restored. and restore your property as well as replace your belongings.
No matter the size of the fire or the extent of the damage, you will need to find somewhere else to stay at least a few days.
Even small fires need to be inspected by the fire department and the property will need to be thoroughly cleaned and the air quality checked.
Smoke, soot, ash, and burned materials can cause serious health conditions and pose a health risk. All of these potentially toxic materials and chemicals will need to be removed before you can live or work in the building.
Keep in mind that just because it looks clean does not mean it’s safe. After a fire, there are many unseen chemical compounds in the air that can make you sick or cause significant respiratory illnesses or cause other diseases that will need to dissipate and be removed.
Find a safe place to stay while the safety assessments can be made.
Obviously, when the fire is large and causes significant amounts of damage, a long-term housing situation will need to be found. If this is the case for you and your family, your insurance company can help you determine what kind of temporary housing can be arranged for the cleaning, restoration, and rebuilding process. In some cases, this process can take many months.
But right after a fire, as the cleanup process begins, just find a place you can sleep for a few days until the extent of the damage can be adequately assessed and safety checks can be made.
When stress levels are high, it is even more important that you get plenty of rest and have a place to decompress and not think about the fire and the cleanup for a few moments. This will help you as you make all the decisions you need to. It will make a difference for you physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Some people decide to stay with family or friends and many people think this can make the recovery easier, as it can be comforting to be around people who love and care about you.
However if this isn’t possible, you can always contact a local disaster relief service, like the Salvation Army or the Red Cross and they can help you find temporary housing.
If you have pets, you will need to take them with you when you leave your property. The environment of your home is just as unsafe and toxic for your pets as they are for you or your family.
Whenever you return to the property to work on cleanup, leave your pets with friends or family. The burned debris from the fire and the chemicals released into the air during combustion are dangerous, and you want to prevent your pets from being accidentally injured or exposed to health risks.
As we have already discussed, it is important to secure your property. This is one of the very first steps in the cleanup of a fire.
Your homeowner’s policy will cover the damage of the fire, but after the fire is out, further damage or theft that results from the home not being secured may not be.
Most insurance policies require you to ensure your home is properly secured from the elements and from other people.
Only if the fire department says it is safe, before you leave the home to stay somewhere else, you need to put security measures into place.
A restoration company can be an invaluable help in this regard and your insurance company can authorize them to do the work needs, such as boarding up doors and windows and other openings with plywood, or putting tarps over any holes on the roof.
Your insurance agent can advise you on securing your home and good restoration companies are prepared with the equipment and experience to help you protect your home. You can also contact your local police department and tell them that you will be away from your home so they can be aware of the extra risks your property may face.
When we think of the dangerous part of a fire, we naturally think of the flames and the smoke. These represent an obvious hazard.
But, it’s important to know that other extremely dangerous elements make up a fire.
These come into play after the fire is out, in the ash, soot, and smoke residue that is left behind.
Long after the flames are put out, there are many dangerous health hazards still lurking.
When non-organic materials are burned they release toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), which are extremely hazardous to long-term health and can even be lethal if ingested or inhaled or absorbed by the skin. Sometimes these negative health consequences are felt immediately, and sometimes they don’t appear for many months or years.
At a home fire in California, a fire chief was exposed to the near-lethal dose of sodium cyanide after the fire was out. When he went to inspect the house, he inadvertently inhaled the chemical which was created when the chemicals of a jewelry refinishing business were burned in the fire. This fire chief nearly died and was only saved by spending time in a hyperbaric chamber.
Everyone needs to exercise extreme caution when reentering a property where there was a fire. You should be aware that even when the fire department says there is no serious structural damage and you may reenter the property,many toxic chemicals may still hang in the air.
After a fire, tiny particulates, smoke, soot residue, VOCs, and other chemical compounds take a long time to dissipate and their nature makes them cling to building materials and furnishings. When you pick up debris or damaged contents from your home or property, these get released back into the air and cling to your skin and clothes.
Keep in mind also, that if you have to board up your house for security reasons, this will increase the potential dangers of the air quality. When you cover any openings, it prevents the elements from getting in, but it also prevents the particulate, toxins, and smoke residues from leaving or dissipating. Everything remains trapped inside the home.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health characterizes boarding up a property that has undergone a fire as “immediately dangerous to life and health” (IDLH). This means that protective gloves, masks, clothing, and breathing equipment with effective filters need to be worn by everyone who enters a building after it has been boarded up because of a fire.
All of these toxic chemicals are not visible to the eye. Some are so small that they can travel easily through the lungs into the blood stream, which then delivers the chemicals to the body’s vital organs.
Even more dangerous, it has been found that some compounds are so small, they can pass through the body’s protective blood-brain barrier. In this case, as the chemicals enter the nose they can reach the brain through the olfactory nerve.
Fires consume all the materials they come in contact with, but further damage continues to occur through soot residue and smoke after a fire is extinguished. This is one of the reasons that a thorough cleanup is so important.
Permanent etching, staining and discoloration are all possible if soot and smoke are allowed to remain on certain items following a fire.
Smoke damages electronic components as well, so many appliances and electronic equipment like stereos and computers will likely be damaged and need to be replaced.
This damage can be cumulative so that even if it seems to be functioning right after the fire, as the chemicals accumulate on the sensitive electronic circuits, they have a likelihood of short-circuiting.
This is because the components of the smoke act as conductors, disrupting the electrical pathways along the circuit boards.
The chemical nature of smoke and soot make them very difficult to remove. Porous materials have air pockets in which smoke and soot can penetrate and stay.
Additionally, when halogen-containing plastics are burned, chemicals like hydrochloric acid are formed. When this acidic compound lands or embeds itself into porous household items or building materials, it causes the breakdown of these items over time. This is why everything needs to be thoroughly cleaned from any smoke residue or soot.
One of the most difficult parts of cleanup after a fire is figuring what can be cleaned and salvaged and what must be thrown away.
This is a difficult process because many household items have sentimental value, but there is also the simple monetary value and it can feel wasteful to discard so much after a fire.
However, the following things need to be discarded for your safety:
Non-perishable Food – Food safety is a huge issue after a fire. All open containers in the cupboard need to be immediately discarded, but even sealed food in aluminum cans may be contaminated by toxic fumes. Be thorough when inspecting your kitchen for smoke, heat, water, and firefighting chemical damage. Throw out all food items, sealed or unsealed, if you even remotely suspect that they have come into contact with any of these contaminants.
Perishable Food – Throw out any food that was in a refrigerator if it smells smoky in the fridge or if you see soot has penetrated the fridge. Also throw out everything if the refrigerator lost power after the fire. Obviously throw out anything with an odd odor or food in the freezer that has defrosted.
Medicine and Cosmetics – You will want to inspect your makeup and your medicine cabinet after a fire. Throw out anything that has signs of soot, smoke discoloration or fire extinguisher dust. Dangerous chemicals can be ingested or be absorbed through your skin if you keep contaminated items.
Burned Clothing – Sometimes clothes, textiles, and bedding can be salvaged with proper disinfection. But if anything is burnt or charred, throw it out.
Never try to save belonging that could make you sick or expose you to soot or toxins. When in doubt, throw it out! If you aren’t sure how to clean or salvage a particular item, your restoration company is the best resource for questions and help in this area. They have years of experience and can tell you if salvage is possible and the best methods for doing so.
Many homeowner policies will pay to have the debris removed after a house or property fire. You can check with your insurance agent to see how your policy handles debris.
Regardless, always handle ash and burned debris with caution. Ash and debris found inside burned structures can contain small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals or carcinogens.
Ash can also be irritating to the skin and lungs and cause a rash or trigger an asthma attack.
Wear protective clothing like, gloves, long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid skin contact. If you do get ash on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible. Always wear a fitted mask during cleanup; one that is rated N-95 or P-100 will be more effective than simpler dust or surgical masks in blocking particles from ash.
In general, many ash particles are larger than those that are in smoke which makes wearing a dust mask valuable at significantly reduce the number of particles inhaled.
Always try to avoid getting ash into the air. It’s important to use a HEPA-filter vacuum cleaner. Shop vacuums and other common vacuum cleaners do not filter out small particles but rather blow them into the air where they can be breathed.
After you get authorization from your insurance company, you should call a reputable restoration company to help you with any immediate remediation of water damage and securing your property.
The restoration company will immediately dispatch an emergency response team to come to your property and assess the water and fire damage. When the fire department says it is safe, the restoration company can then secure doors, windows and other openings to minimize further damage.
When necessary and possible, they will also begin pumping out any standing water and initiate drying which can reduce water damage, mold infestation, and further damage.
Additionally, one of the most critical things a restoration company can do after a fire is to improve the air quality and the ventilation of the property.
Using industrial-strength fans and by running state-of-the-art, filtered air scrubbers they can use specialized equipment to move hazardous air particles out of the property.
This reduces the overall amount of smoke damage done to the property and contents and makes the air safe again.
Restoration companies have access to filters, specialized equipment, alkaline cleaning agents, and years of experience to eliminate the smoke. Again, these first actions taken by the restoration company are really important to prevent and mitigate additional damage to your home.
Always contact a restoration company that has years of experience in fire damage. Make sure they are licensed, bonded and insured and have a proven reputation and stellar consumer reviews.
Titan Restoration of Arizona are experts in fire damage cleanup, remediation, and restoration. We have teams of technicians and state-of-the-art equipment that can be dispatched immediately to help you when you are facing fire damage.
We have been in the fire damage restoration business for over two decades, and have built a reputation for quality work and incredible customer service. We want to reduce all the overwhelm and stress that can accompany a fire loss. From starting the claims process to the final inspection, we will be with you every step of the way.
We hire the very best people. Our techs are knowledgeable, we use the very best equipment, and we thoroughly clean and test every property we work on. Our office staff knows the insurance industry and can expedite your claim so that you can get things back to normal as soon as possible. If you have a fire, no matter the size, we are here to help.
If you have questions or concerns about the cleanup process after a house fire or need help in the aftermath of a fire, please contact us today.
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