The Future of Fire Damage Restoration

The more things change, the more they stay the same! There is a sense of optimism building, for some, in seeing changes implemented within various restoration companies that perform remediation services regarding fire damages.

However, even with the promising outlook for companies making changes to their procedures, there remains a substantial lack of knowledge. With businesses using social media platforms to showcase and market their processes and procedures, they often unknowingly reveal exactly where they are lacking. Pictures show workers cleaning surfaces contaminated with products of incomplete combustion (PIC). residue (and yes, there is a specific reason for identifying this as PIC and not “soot”, which is covered later), and they have very little to no personal protective equipment.

Photographs show workers standing just outside a structure during a break with their protective suits unzipped that they have not doffed. Or, workers could be standing on the property with half-zipped suits and their respiratory protection sitting on top of their head. These are only two examples of many. With every good change implemented, there are even more mistakes not accounted for, which we hope are not done out of sheer neglect.

In 2019, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reported 481,500 structure fires, and in the same year, the Insurance Information Institute reported over $12 billion in property damage costs regarding structure fires. In 2017, they reported that the costs for that year were 567% higher than water damages. Five hundred and sixty- seven percent higher! That’s amazing considering fire damage claims are usually around fourth on the list each year for the total number of claims, but almost every year, the payouts for fire damage claims sit at the top.


One reason for this, with NFPA data to support, is due to many structure fires occurring at rural properties in which the response from fire departments can be longer than 15 minutes. By the time responders arrive, much of the structure is destroyed beyond the capabilities of restorers to save or preserve what remains and often results in complete rebuilds. But possibly the most significant reason is due to lack of fire behavior knowledge.

The problem starts with education. However, this is not to say that all educators are teaching concepts incorrectly or that employers are entirely at fault, but it could be a combination of issues. Owners not providing the opportunity to workers, educators not fully understanding the field themselves, workers not heeding the knowledge given to them, cognitive dissonance, or a mix of numerous issues can all be contributing factors.

Regardless, everyone in this industry must understand the need for research and evolving their education. When we learn, we move, and right now, the movement is very slow. Not much has changed in the way these projects are handled within the last two decades.

For many who work in this field, if asked what one of the greatest issues they face in performing this work, the answer is often controlling odors from fire residues. Odor control is important, but ensuring the safety and health of workers, determining the necessary procedures through a proper and thorough inspection, prevention of secondary damages, and proper contamination removal procedures all take priority over odor control techniques such as fogging, oxidizers, etc. If workers concentrate on proper control measures like ventilation, preventing secondary damages, and contamination removal through detailed cleaning procedures, it can often reduce the amount of odor control agents needed, especially at the end of the project.

The issue with odor control is minor in the scheme of things, though. The initial inspection, or lack thereof, is mainly where education is missing. How can companies even begin remediating damages if they do not understand what should be saved or disposed? The same companies that use thermo-hygrometers and moisture meters when inspecting for water damage and use principles of physics regarding psychrometric conditions for understanding atmospheric conditions in water damage remediation are often the same companies that base fire damage restoration procedures off of color. It’s dark black; it must need to be removed. This isn’t to generalize and state that all companies do this, but rather to identify a mentality that many in the industry currently possess.

Ask yourself what a firefighter’s fog nozzle has to do with potential microbial development and how you get from point A, a nozzle attached to a hose to extinguish fires, to B, potential microbial growth on surfaces, in that scenario. Then ask yourself how understanding thermodynamics comes into play. What process or tool would be used to determine if calcination has taken place in gypsum or where in a structure would you run these tests? What is spalling? What are the stages of fire development? Who is Percival Pott, what did he do, and why does that matter?

Then begin to ask yourself just how many regulations the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed that apply to fire damage restoration? Are fire-damaged projects required to be tested by a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), and if so, do those results have to be kept and maintained by the employer for 30 years?

There is so much missing, even things that may seem to be as trivial as terminology. Heat line? Is that an accurate phrase? If not, what is it? People also make statements such as, “We are cleaning up smoke AND soot” or “I’m doing fire AND smoke remediation.” Are they? What is smoke, soot, or fire, exactly? One would not say microbial AND mold remediation.

Fire is the primary term to describe combustion and typically produces light, heat, and SMOKE. Smoke is not separate from fire; it is part of a fire. Workers also do not perform smoke remediation, as smoke is present during a fire or shortly thereafter. They perform smoke damage remediation. Furthermore, smoke and soot are not two separate things. Smoke is comprised of gases, vapors, and particulates. Soot is ONE product that is found within smoke. However, soot is only produced from combustion with materials that have a carbon or organic base. If a synthetic product burns that does not have a carbon base, it does not produce soot. There are hundreds of other substances that can be produced besides soot, which is why PIC is a more accurate term.

Once workers in this industry  gain  a  better understanding of fire science, how it behaves, temperature thresholds of materials, proper terminology and nomenclature, and federal regulations affecting this industry, it will drastically change how they process their fire-damaged jobs projects. Their understanding of the order of importance and components of the project, specifically the initial inspection, will become clearer, and more accurate determinations can be made based on science rather than assumptions.

David Hodge

David is a Triple Master with the IICRC and has a background in full service cleaning and restoration, estimating, operations, and reconstruction. David serves as Chair of the Exams and Education Committee for the

IICRC and is currently serving on the Board of Directors as 1st VP for the IICRC. Not only that, his background as a firefighter, EMT, and HazMat tech makes him an excellent candidate to discuss fire loss and cleaning. He is a knowledgeable and hilarious instructor considered to be one of the best instructors in the industry!

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