Stepping Up to the Plate

Picture nearly 40,000 baseball fans unable to enter their team’s stadium on opening day. That horrific image almost came to life when a fire broke out in a warehouse underneath the right-field stands of U.S. Cellular Field on the Chicago White Sox’s opening day April 8, 2016. Without the swift work of Midwest Restoration, recipient of the RIA 2017 Phoenix Award for Innovation in Restoration, the White Sox would have had to cancel their season opener.

Jim Hall, the owner of Midwest Restoration, described the lofty task: “With a high-profile event, lots of people, and very little time, we had a huge challenge in front of us. With the fire department wrapping up just hours before the gates were to open to 38,000 excited fans, our team had to get in, secure the damaged warehouse and make it appear as if nothing happened.”

All Access

The warehouse in question was located within the stadium itself — the part the public doesn’t usually see: the underbelly of the stadium. It is laid out in a large circle with a series of offices and warehouses making up the perimeter interconnected by one large hallway. This is significant because the origin of the fire was literally only steps away from offices and locker rooms. In addition to the close proximity of key areas within the stadium, the warehouse was unique because it provided only access between the first base dugout and the batting cages for the visiting team.

Step one was to provide emergency services. The fire department was leaving as the Midwest Restoration crew arrived, and the first things the Midwest crew noted were that the warehouse and adjacent areas had a strong smoke odor with soot everywhere and a wet dripping pile of burned merchandise on 20-foot-high racks. The crew had to:

  • Reopen the tunnel in front of the warehouse for vendor traffic
  • Neutralize the odor
  • Contain the spread of soot
  • Begin the dry out process

They used odor control fogging and Vaporteck deodorizers with HEPA air scrubbers to control odor and soot. Dehumidification equipment was set up to begin drying out, and plastic containment was put in place to isolate the warehouse from the rest of the stadium. By the time the game began the tunnel was cleared and odor-free, and over the weekend the warehouse was dried and the environment stabilized.

Sports-Specific Challenges

Working with a professional baseball team presented unique challenges, particularly with regard to scheduling. Work was only permitted in the stadium on non-game days, and that work was limited to normal business hours.

Because of these restrictions, Midwest Restoration became something of an extension of the Chicago White Sox’s warehouse. While the team was out of town, the crew completed the pack out. Five semi loads of contents were moved to Midwest’s warehouse for cleaning and storage. When the White Sox were back in town, the crew had to clean and deliver pallets of merchandise and other materials needed for game day. Midwest made multiple deliveries over a three-month span to accommodate the needs of the team, sometimes on very short notice. All summer was spent cleaning mascots, electronics, boxes of promotional tee shirts, game-day programs, and a large assortment of promotional items.

Over 400 boxes of wet documents were dried in Midwest Restoration’s dehumidification tent in Batavia, Illinois, deodorized with ozone, and boxed. Electronics, including 20 large-screen TVs, were cleaned using a deionized water system and ultrasonic cleaning station. Textiles were cleaned in their laundering facility. Large mascot uniforms were cleaned using portable upholstery equipment. Thousands of promotional items were hand-cleaned and deodorized in an ozone chamber.

Getting Organized

A big part of keeping Midwest organized was using DASH for job management and ContentsTrack for inventory control. DASH was used to manage job tasks, track hours, and document the job. Contentstack was invaluable in the pack out to inventory the White Sox property and later to locate contents and track deliveries. Without ContentsTrack, it would have been nearly impossible for Matt Nykiel, the White Sox purchasing manager, to identify the exact items he needed for their specific games, and for Midwest Restoration to make those deliveries.

Game On

Overall, the project was a great success. The White Sox were able to complete the season with minimal interruptions, and the insurance companies kept Major League Baseball happy and saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in replacement cost. The replacement cost of the merchandising material and electronics saved the insurer more than $400,000. This did not include the documents and records that would have been impossible to replace or lost revenue.

For all of this stellar work, Midwest Restoration was awarded the RIA 2017 Phoenix Award for Innovation in Restoration. Hall said, “It is always an honor to be recognized by your peers for excellence in one’s profession. The entire Midwest team is grateful for this award.”

What does the future look like for Midwest Restoration? “We are excited for the new challenges that face the industry,” Hall said. “If restoration companies continue a campaign to grow professionally and ethically, there will always be opportunities. Midwest Restoration Services will continue to be one of those companies now and well into the future.”

This article was shared in C&R with the permission of the Restoration Industry Association.

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