When Groceries Go Up in Smoke
You know the type of loss. The kind where the stench permeates the air and lingers on your clothes for hours. We walked into this commercial loss at 10:30 p.m. the weekend before the Fourth of July, facing a dismal sight: a grocery store covered in soot, haze in the air, and a bevy of distraught workers. Soot covered everything from the 26-foot ceilings down to the floor. Soot encapsulated pallets of non-perishables and perishable items alike, and the particles even worked their way up into the plastic wrap of sealed water bottles. The employee break room was infiltrated by the acidic dust. Employees were in a frenzy and management wasn’t sure what to do or where to begin.
Our team was able to step in, design a plan, and execute it with skill and technique.
A Little Background
Our Alert Disaster Restoration (“ADR”) family is based on long-term relationship building internally with our employees and externally with our clients. ADR is a full-service family owed business serving the heart of Kern County, California, about 1.5 hours north of Los Angeles. ADR started in 2005 with three employees and today we have 24 employees with more than 100 subcontractors.
We got the call at 10:30 p.m. on the weekend before the Fourth of July from our sister company, specializing in victims services. A local grocery store - one of the over 1,200 grocery stores comprising the largest discount grocery chain in America - had a fire that originated in a self-standing freezer. The fire department was able to extinguish the fire in a reasonable time preventing the water suppression system from discharging, but there was still extreme smoke and soot damage that spread throughout including the warehouse. The smoke permeated cardboard and perishable groceries and was visible on the 26-foot high ceiling of this open floor plan.
Our 10-person team started cleaning immediately using scissor lifts and extension poles, and worked through the night. The goal was to complete the sales floor cleaning by morning. Another team of five cleaned the back warehouse area from top to bottom including the ceiling.
The health department only required the disposal of fresh produce and refrigerated meats; that meant a heavy smoke smell remained in the contents that could be saved. We called in a subcontractor who completed the duct/HVAC cleaning and our electrician assisted in setting up a spider box wired into the main electrical for the 80+ pieces of equipment needed to eliminate the smoke smell.
Since the client’s corporate protocol didn’t allow for the disposal of cardboard and boxed items, we placed 40 hydroxyl generators paired with air movers to immediately address and eliminate smoke smell. Due to the urgency of this project, we needed the hydroxyl generators quickly, and Odorox had them on site in just six hours. Within 24 hours of getting the machines running, the smoke odor was completely gone. Onsite management was singing our praises.
With our experience, we understood the need to work with the corporate decision makers. We quickly responded, despite it being after-hours and on the weekend, and met onsite with local management. A comprehensive assessment of damages was conducted and we designed a strategic plan enabling the store to open within 48 hours for what they consider their biggest day of the year - the Fourth of July. We also knew we had to allow them to follow their own protocol regardless of it being right or wrong according to our expertise. While some of their decisions were not recommended by ADR, we positioned ourselves to help at every turn and offered expertise throughout the project knowing they would circle back around to ADR and need further emergency assistance.
Keeping the Customer Happy
We ensured that either our commercial accounts manager or a member of our senior management team was onsite throughout the duration of the project. The client’s division director of operations expressed how grateful she was that we completed on schedule and enabled them to open within the allotted time frame. We are most proud of how we executed and completed the project on time and knowing we were able to positively contribute to our clients’ overall revenue cycle for the store.
Plus, an entity involved in this loss was impressed by our work and our team and referred another large commercial loss to us just a week later!
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Gathering logistical resources and labor to start and complete the initial cleaning within 16 hours was a challenge. The biggest lesson is the necessity of detailed standard operating procedures and protocols to ensure the project is completed with precision. And then…debrief, debrief and debrief after every project. This was a great experience for our team and we learned the necessity of discrete behaviors. Commercial clients are very cautious regarding publicly sharing their disasters. They are concerned with bad perception or customer fears that may adversely impact the business’s revenue. Therefore, understated uniforms and vehicles are a must. Remember to always be sensitive to a client’s needs.