CASE STUDY: Apartment Fire in the Bronx

Tracey Towers

Maxons Restorations (now First Onsite) project earns RIA Phoenix Award.

Restoration in big cities looks a little different than in the suburbs, and small town America. Maxons Restorations, now part of First Onsite, has been serving New York City for more than 75 years. They have learned how to tackle unique challenges that come with big city living – like fires in high rises and historic cathedrals.

On March 10, 2020, a compactor chute fire caused extensive damage throughout the Tracey Towers, a large apartment building in the Bronx. Within two hours of getting the call, the Maxons team was on site, and crews got to work in common areas from the second to 41st floors. Meanwhile, property management scrambled to find places for tenants who had been affected by the fire. This was a necessary step in order to restore some of the heavily-damaged units, and would quickly become one hurdle of the project, due to few spaces being available for displaced families.

“The biggest pain point for the building staff was the volume of calls and complaints they were getting from tenants about the initial damage and relaying that info to us in a way we could move forward with remediation,” recalled Greg Schlitt, regional manager for Maxons. “It was a high volume of communication for them to be handling.”

The cleaning and restoration team worked closely with the building staff to prioritize cleaning all 69 of the affected units as quickly and efficiently as possible. Due to the logistics with tenants and so many areas to clean, Maxons did the work in three phases to avoid further damage and keep the entire process coordinated and seamless for everyone involved.

Phase 1: EMS Response/Stabilization & Structural Soot/Smoke Cleaning

This phase largely involved the common areas and compactor chutes. The structural cleaning involved all ceilings, walls, floors, door openings, door slabs and hardware, moldings and trim, wall fixtures, exit signs, and pretty much any other possible surface.
Phase one also included initial water extraction and stabilization with dehumidifiers and air filtration tools like air scrubbers. The team quickly contained the source area, and all the compactor chute closets on each floor.

This is another example of the soot, dirt, and debris strewn throughout affected areas within the Tracey Towers. The logistics of cleaning and restoration were complicated by limited stair and elevator access, as well as limited space to move affected residents while their units were being restored.

Phase 2 (in conjunction with Phase 1): Structural Soot/Smoke Cleaning

The fire itself, since it originated in a trash chute, was fueled by a lot of grease and other synthetic materials. This, in turn, created heavy smoke and soot residue that adhered to any surface left exposed.

“Cleaning required several rounds, typically at least three or four, using a combination of methods and solutions like degreasing and deodorizing agents, agitation, wiping and mopping,” Schlitt said.

soot covered door mat

Beneath the layers of sticky soot and fire damage lay very different colors. When this door mat was removed, it reveals a much lighter tile floor than you might expect.

This building is all rental properties – a mix of studio, one- bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units. Being apartments, Maxons did not have approval to clean the contents themselves, so everything needed to be moved and handled with additional care, planning, and protection. This proved rather tedious as many apartments had an over- abundance of items that had to be moved several times for complete and through cleaning to be possible.

Again, all surfaces were cleaned within the apartments themselves, as had been done in the common areas.

The Maxons team left no area untouched – including cleaning elements like medicine cabinets, thermostats, smoke detectors, and light fixtures, along with the more common surfaces.

sooty floor

This is another example of the soot, dirt, and debris strewn throughout affected areas within the Tracey Towers. The logistics of cleaning and restoration were complicated by limited stair and elevator access, as well as limited space to move affected residents while their units were being restored.


Phase 3: Strategic Removal of Affected Materials & Structural Dry-Out

In this phase, crews assessed and cleaned, removed, or remediated drywall, base moldings, and any exposed surfaces.


Logistical Challenges

No job is without its unique challenges. Here are a few faced in the Tracey Towers project:

  • Two separate towers, but just one entrance.
  • Workers had to walk through common areas of the unaffected tower to reach work areas.
  • One elevator bank/staircase provided access up to the 20th floor. A separate elevator bank/staircase had to be used for floors 21 to 41. It took several days for any elevators to be operational after the fire. In addition, none of the elevators had been designed for service use. This meant the Maxons team largely used the stairs throughout the project.
  • Debris removal from upper floors had to be transported down to the exit level by wheeling bins or bags, taken outside, and loaded into waste vehicles.
  • No master key meant scheduling work with every single individual unit. Tenant no-shows and no-answers led to unnecessary delays and constant shifting of schedules.
  • At the peak of the project, there were up to six crews and 106 people involved in the restoration process. To avoid overloading physical space, shifts started and ended in 30-minute intervals, and included a daily sign-in process.
cluttered room

Many apartments were filled with an over-abundance of items, which often had to be moved around multiple times to make thorough cleaning possible.

Completion of the Project

The Maxons team completed this entire project within two weeks. The final report in Xactimate was done with a unit cost method, and was 440 pages long. The project was finished four days after New York’s stay-home order was issued in March of 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

The bill was paid in full in less than 30 days thanks to communication between all the parties on site including property management, building staff, the insurance adjuster, and building consultant.

man cleaning soot from walls

With fire and smoke damage this extensive, every square inch of the 69 affected apartments and common spaces had to be cleaned, just like this. Often these surfaces had to be cleaning two, three, four times, or more, due to the protein fire residue.

Final Thoughts

“While this loss could be seen by most as one large loss, the Maxons team saw this as 70 jobs at one location – one job for the building’s common areas and 69 apartments,” Schlitt said. “And although we had one customer in the building itself, the property management company, we constantly reminded ourselves that especially on a job like this, everyone you interact with is a customer.”

Being understanding, compassionate, and professional while achieving restoration goals made the difference between getting one job done versus 70; and living out the Maxons organizational mantra to “Make the world a better place – one relationship, one project at a time”.


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