Garage Fire: A Father's Worst Nightmare
On a beautiful Friday morning in the quiet little country town of Pine Island, Minn. (population 3,263) a family welcomed their new infant son. When life is so brand new and so tiny you become very aware just how fragile and dependent that life is. Witnessing a new life coming into the world fills you with emotions. Excitement, joy, love, and fear just to name a few. As a new father, there is nothing you wouldn’t do to protect and care for your infant child. Life is full of possibilities and new beginning. Life is good.
Forty-eight hours later, you are getting ready to go to your house to grab some clothes for mom and baby’s new car seat, so you can bring your new family home safe and sound.
Then the unthinkable happens…
A battery that you left charging for your toddler son’s toy car has caught fire and destroyed the two-car garage that is attached to your home. The garage was full of chemicals, weed sprayers, and tons of plastics that sent toxic smoke and soot throughout your home.
You leave the hospital and race home to assess the situation. The wretched odor hits you as soon as you open your car door. Opening the door to your house, you are immediately assaulted with the vision of soot, insulation, and water all over the floor. To your right, just inside the entry, sits Grandma’s prized organ that’s been in the family for years. Your son’s car seat sits on the table, destroyed. Your wife’s favorite jacket is hanging in the closet and that bottle of wine from your wedding that you were saving for a special occasion sits by the organ. It is all covered in black, toxic soot. All you can think about is how can I ever bring my new son into this house?
This was such a horrible situation this young father found himself in a couple of months ago. Now add the fact that his father had recently passed away from cancer caused by chemicals.
Mom and baby are set to check out of the hospital today and come home; the dad doesn’t even know where to begin.
Calling for Help
Service Restoration, a local restoration company, got the call and immediately went out to look at the job. Ray, the manager of the company’s brand new contents division, knew they needed help since the situation was so sensitive, so they called me (Annissa) for help!
Forty-eight hours later, my husband Kevin and I were on the job site. It was immediately clear the garage would need to be demoed to the studs, and all the contents in the garage were destroyed, so inventory was needed.
The structure team started on the garage pulling out contents to be logged as destroyed and disposed. From there, demolition could start and insulation could be removed from the attic area. The garage was attached to the house, however the structural damage was isolated to the garage except for one bedroom that was sprayed with water from the fire department so flooring had to be removed and 2-foot drywall cuts made to dry it out.
As demo was underway, the contents portion also got rolling. This was tricky as the homeowner/young father was terrified to have any of their items cleaned and returned to the home. Ray and I spent time with him going over the processes we would use to clean items and educating him to relieve his fears.
Based upon his fears, we also had a conversation with the adjuster and got approval to replace all the baby’s items – clothes, toys, books, everything. We also destroyed all pillows and food throughout the home. The adjuster was very understanding and gave us the leeway to make the necessary calls without concern. This made our job much easier. Educating both the homeowner and adjuster was very vital to our remediation and cleaning going without a hitch.
Our pack-out and demo took five days to complete with a crew of 12. During this time frame we logged all non-salvaged and salvaged items, transported contents to the facility to clean, and completed demo and dry-out on the home and garage. The structure was put on hold at one point until the homeowner and the insurance company could reach an agreement on the scope of work to be done. Contents were cleaned and returned to the property to be stored until the structural part of the job is complete.
Conversation & Understanding is Key
It was so important when dealing with the contents to involve the homeowner in the entire process. Often, their lives already feel out of control, so having them in the process gives them a better sense of control. This, in turn, makes our job easier – and their experience less stressful.
As restorers, we knew what could and could not be cleaned, but having the adjuster understand the homeowner’s concerns and past history was key in the experience for all involved to have the result we were after. Asking the homeowner to tell us the story of what happened and walk through the job with us before we began helped us know how to efficiently and effectively complete the job.
The next time you’re on a high-emotion job (or any job!), don’t forget to listen. In this case, listening to our client’s fears and concerns gave him the peace of mind he needed to get through this experience and confidence in our ability to help.