Now that the Fire is Out, What Happens Next?
By Ron Fanish
A fire is one of the most dangerous and traumatic events that can happen to a person and a property – which is why fire professionals and the departments they staff play such a vital role in our communities.
Of course, once a fire is extinguished, the danger and trauma don’t just disappear. Business owners and homeowners must navigate several obstacles in a fire’s aftermath. This entails everything from safely interacting with the damaged property, to filing an insurance claim, to rebuilding and making sure all the necessary precautions are taken in order to avoid another disaster.
Some of these steps are things that fire departments can assist with directly, while others fall within the scope of insurance and restoration professionals. In either case, it’s helpful for fire departments to know what should happen next once the fire is out, so they can assist business owners and homeowners – even if it’s just by giving a quick summary or recommendation.
Step 1: Stay safe and preserve the scene. As all fire professionals know, safety is always the top priority. Even after the flames are extinguished, business owners and homeowners shouldn’t re-enter the property until it’s been deemed safe. And even then, they should proceed carefully. A fire scene should be treated just like a crime scene – don’t touch anything, so the professionals (in this case, inspectors, insurers, and restoration professionals) can act. Indeed, the first 48 hours of a loss are crucial to prevent further damages.
This is also the time for business owners and homeowners to review their insurance policies and determine what is – and isn’t – covered. Fire professionals can remind individuals to reach out to their insurance agent or broker as soon as possible.
Step 2: Restore. Once the fire department has done their job, and the insurance company has done theirs, it’s time to restore the property. In many cases, fire departments can share information on professional restoration companies that service the area. This is a job that requires special expertise. Qualified restoration companies have undergone extensive training from the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) to ensure that proper procedures are followed in the aftermath of a fire. Restoration companies should also have HIC, or home improvement licenses, within their coverage region.
Restoration professionals can deploy a range of cleaning methods depending on the type of damage – they can address fire damage, but also smoke damage, soot, water damage, and other issues. Using the right method is absolutely crucial, because if cleanup is conducted improperly, it can compromise a building’s integrity and cause even more damage to a property.
In recommending a qualified restoration company, fire professionals will also help fire victims to save on precious time and prevent unnecessary headaches. Restoration companies have programs and partnerships in place with insurance companies, which allow the restoration process to proceed efficiently and effectively. This full-service restoration approach means victims don’t need to keep track of multiple contractors, each one working on a separate portion of the insurance claim.
Step 3: Rebuild. This step is the most time consuming. Fire damage at a residential property generally can take two to six months to rebuild, while commercial properties are often a bit longer – three to 18 months. The time period is based on the extent of the damage, but also how quickly insurance can assess that damage and determine coverage. Other variables can also extend the rebuilding phase, like environmental testing (in the event that mold or asbestos is discovered) or if certain permits and clearances are required. Fire professionals can give victims an overview of all this.
Step 4: Stay prepared. No one should have to endure a fire once, never mind twice. But it can happen. For that reason, it’s essential that any property restored and rebuilt after a fire is prepared for the possibility of another. Fire professionals should remind business owners and homeowners to take all the necessary precautions. For example, be sure to reinstall smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – and continue to check and replace their batteries at least twice per year. Residents should also replace fire extinguishers that were used or lost during the previous fire and reacquaint themselves with any gas and other shut-off valves. It’s also crucial to have a disaster plan in place should it ever be needed in the future.
Facing a fire, and then recovering from it, is an incredibly challenging process. But with the courage and expertise of fire departments – and with the added help of qualified restoration professionals – business owners and homeowners can recover, get back on their feet, and return to normal life.
About the Author:
Ron Fanish is co-owner of Rainbow International Restoration of Westchester, a full-service, one-stop shop for restoration, cleaning, and reconstruction based in Westchester County, NY.