Lessons Learned in the Fire

Founded by two local businessmen, Royal Wa­ter Damage Restoration has been serving the Greater Philadelphia region for more than two decades. The company grew over the years and now operates out of two locations to ensure immediate re­sponses when needed. To provide further assistance to their customers, they developed a process where 100% of incoming calls were answered live – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. This system operated for years without any issues until an unexpected call at 2 a.m. on July 2, 2021.

Employees for Royal were out late working on a project and returned to the shop around 11 p.m. The facility was approximately 27,000 square feet and had enough room for some trucks to be parked inside. Unfortunately, an electrical issue in one of the trucks sparked a fire that night. The fire department got the call around 1 a.m. Shortly after, Crystal DelQuadro, Royal’s project coordinator, received a call to notify her of the damage.

“I jumped in my car and felt sheer panic and sad­ness, but still hopeful that it wouldn’t be too bad when I got there,” she said. “I pulled up to see our warehouse manager and the son of one of the owners just staring at our building with heartbreak in their eyes. That’s when I knew it was bad.”

The area directly affected was about 5,500 square feet, but the entire building was heavily impacted by smoke and soot. Two truck mounts were destroyed with nothing left but metal frames. Three additional trucks needed to be checked, cleaned, and serviced, so they could not be used. Approximately 80% of Roy­al’s equipment and materials were either damaged or ruined. The fire was so hot, some of the equipment melted to the walls and the floors. Even the conference room where the morning meetings were held was black and charred.

With many jobs already scheduled, and more calls coming in, Royal had a very difficult question to an­swer: do we just quit and close the business, or do we work through this?

“When I first went inside, I couldn’t stop myself from tears falling and crying. When I picked my head up, I saw employees standing next to me. At that time, I understood they too had a family to support, and we needed to come together as a team and fight this,” said Oren Mashiah, president and co-owner of Royal, as he reflected on those early hours after the fire.

As the crews started to arrive the following day, vehicles not damaged by the fire were equipped with whatever supplies Royal still had available. Crews were sent straight to jobsites that were already on the schedule, continuing to serve customers as if nothing had happened. Consultants later arrived at the facility and everyone was eager to implement the game plan that was created.

While keeping the business running as much as they could, Royal decided to have their own guys lead the restoration of the shop. Little did they know the challenges ahead.

“We lost a lot of plumbers and friends who we had a long-time working relationship with, because we couldn’t do the jobs,” Oren recalled. “Some of the plumbers were understanding and stood strong with us and continued the relationship, and a lot of them left us.”

Crystal and Royal GM Dan Sears recounted times when competitors used Royal’s fire to their advantage. Thankfully, they did have some other companies who were putting people in vans and giving Royal any sup­plies they could spare.

Oren also said the insurance company gave them a hard time on payment, and did not cover all the dam­age Royal sustained.

Adding salt to the wound, this all happened in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and caused Royal to lose a lot of employees. “I felt like after so many years of succeeding, we were going down hard, and fast,” Oren said.

Royal experienced a period of missed opportunities to respond to losses caused by a hurricane, strained re­lationships with property managers and vendors, and tearful conversations with customers because Royal couldn’t help them when they needed it.

“We run such an honest company,” Crystal said. “It’s a really personal story. It was a struggle. But every­one stayed positive.”

Dan was a key player in making much of the res­toration and renewal of the company happen and the team learned something quite valuable.

“Everyone took this very hard. We all tried to keep our heads high, but the initial shock was there. Being in this industry, it’s really easy to take for granted what happens to other people,” Dan said. “This tragic event helps us to look at each customer individually and understand what they are going through.”

Oren and his business partner, David, had been together in the Air Force, and refused to give up. As the restoration process continued, they bought new truck mounts and new equipment, worked endlessly to fix the shop, and in a few months, started to see the business come back to life.

There were many moving parts needed to get this business fully operational again. Aside from the ob­vious physical work that needed to be done, and the emotional support required to keep many different players at ease, what other components were influential during the process?
Oren gives this advice to fellow restorers: “Al­ways try to keep some money on the side for a bad situation like this. Thank God we had money to sur­vive because we kept some money on the side. Also, never give up if something like this happens to you. Today we are fully up and running, back into busi­ness, and better than ever.”

It is easy to overlook some of the emotional damage caused by fire, water, or other natural disasters. Sometimes it takes going through an event like this and experiencing it yourself to fully appreciate what our customers are going through. Of course, we don’t want everyone to have something tragic like this hap­pen, but hopefully hearing these stories from fellow restorers can bring everyone a new perspective. It is important to be prepared in case something like this ever happens, but at the very least, let’s continue show­ing kindness to our customers. You never know what they’re going through.

Avoiding a Conflict of Interest

Ken Larsen, CR, was engaged by the poli­cyholder to conduct tests on the property to determine the nature of smoke residues resulting from the fire. This included laborato­ry analysis to establish the association of the covered peril (fire) to the [alleged] residues identified to be part of the insurance claim. This included cavities and adjacent areas commonly declared to be unaffected or sim­ply “housekeeping” issues and excluded from the claim. Mr. Larsen conducted the test­ing and produced a formal technical report explaining the findings along with a generic protocol for the restoration of this type of loss.

Whenever there is an apparent conflict of in­terest (like when you will be conducting work on your own insurance claim), it can be wise to bring in a qualified expert, like a Registered Third Party Evaluator® (RTPE). To avoid alle­gations of conflicts of interest, be sure the expert is engaged by the property owner – not the contractor or insurer. For best results, rather than the consultant working directly with the contractor and insurer, the consul­tant is most effective when they communicate their recommendations directly to the policy holder with the contractor and claims repre­sentative present. This way the policy holder can witness any proposed shenanigans first hand and address them directly.

The consultant should invoice the policy hold­er, who in turn would include this expense as part of their claim with the declared purpose of the consultant to “establish the scope of work” on the claim. Some have called this “claims preparation” or “claims prep.”

Industry standards have described the stan­dard practice of using Indoor Environmental Professionals (IEPs) for decades. Yet, in many cases, contractors hesitate to recommend their use to their own demise (as experienced during post restoration file reviews).

To control post restoration debates… sur­round your customer with industry experts rather than trying to defend your processes and charges by yourself. It sure makes the price-control debater’s objectives more diffi­cult to attain.

Michelle Blevins

Michelle BlevinsMichelle Blevins is a content creator, marketing consultant, and entrepreneur whose career has been centered around education and fostering relationships within the industry she serves.

A journalist by trade, Michelle is passionate about running a publication rooted in integrity and valuable education. She views her role as owner and publisher of C&R Magazine as a bridge between industry experts and restoration and cleaning contractors.

Since joining the restoration industry, Michelle has made it her business to stay on top of the latest industry trends. She has become a go-to resource for anyone looking to learn more about what’s happening within today’s restoration industry. This has earned her a spot on many industry stages facilitating panels and helpful discussion with industry experts on the biggest topics facing restorers and cleaners in the current market.

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