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FIRE DAMAGE: Causes, Cleanup & Prevention


Common Causes: Healthcare
According to the U.S Fire Administration, between 2004 and 2006, an average of 6,400 fires occurred each year in medical facilities, resulting in more than $34 million in losses.

  • 55 percent of medical facility fires are small, confined cooking fires.
  • Medical facilities offering 24-hour care account for 89 percent of medical facility fires. 24-hour care facilities also account for 94 percent of cooking fires in all medical facilities.
  • Fire peaks coincide with meal preparation times.

Common Causes: Hospitality
When it comes to the Hospitality industry, an estimated 3,900 hotel and motel fires are reported to U.S. fire departments each year, causing an estimated 15 deaths, 150 injuries and $76 million in property loss.

  • Cooking is the lead cause of hotel and motel fires (46 percent). Almost all hotel and motel cooking fires are small, confined fires (97 percent).
  • 18 percent of hotel and motel fires extend beyond the room of origin. The leading causes of these larger fires are electrical malfunctions, intentionally set fires and fires caused by open flames.

Cleanup and restoration after a fire is something that requires training and specialized equipment. Engaging a professional will help bring your property back to a pre-loss condition.

There are many things to consider when cleaning after a fire, including:

  • Business interruption
  • Insurance coverage
  • Water damage
  • Smoke damage
  • Extinguisher damage
  • Burnt structure
  • Furniture, fixtures & content damage
  • Document damage
  • Electronics cleaning
  • HVAC cleaning
  • Odor removal
  • Insulation removal & replacement

Disaster planning should always be top of mind with any business. Fire & Life Safety is something that needs to be taught, trained and relearned on a regular basis. If you need help with your disaster planning, contact a professional.

Here are a couple of websites that can help:

  • Fire and Life Safety Inc.   | 
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)  |


When was the last time you had the carpets in your home cleaned? While people rarely think about it, every step you take agitates dust into the air. So, to improve the overall air quality of your home it’s recommended the carpeting in your home gets professionally cleaned at least twice a year.


Just as carpets collect dust, dead skin cells and dirt, so does the upholstery on your furniture. As such, we recommend you have your upholstery cleaned annually by a certified professional. Routine cleaning of carpets and furniture will help extend their life and improve the overall air quality in your home.


Household ventilation is often the most overlooked aspect when attempting to maintain a healthy home. The problem is many believe that air duct cleaning is a complicated process when, in fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Cleaning your air ducts can have one of, if not “the” largest impact on your home's air quality. Our customers frequently ask, " how often should I clean the air ducts in my home"? Well, to prolong the life of your filter and increase the longevity of your HVAC system, you should clean your air ducts every year. Our professionals can quickly inspect your system and provide you with an estimate.

STOP, DROP AND ROLL...up that lint

Did you know that more than 15,000 dryer fires occur each year throughout North America? In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Agency, the leading cause of dryer fires is a lack of regular maintenance — resulting in 15 deaths and 400 injuries on average annually.

Dryer vents should be cleaned at least once a year to keep the air in your home clean, reduce fire hazards and ensure the continued safe & efficient operation of your dryer.

Call ACT today. A quick maintenance visit by one of our professionals could prevent a costly and misfortunate loss.

Get your dryer duct cleaned for only $75 with the purchase of any other healthy home service.


What Is A Polar Vortex?

“The polar vortex is NOT a recently discovered phenomenon. In fact, it has been talked about in the meteorological community for decades,” said Senior Meteorologist, Bernie Rayno.

A polar vortex is a large pocket of very cold air, typically the coldest air in the Northern Hemisphere, which sits over the polar region during the winter season. The frigid air can find its way into the United States when the polar vortex is pushed farther south, occasionally reaching Southern Canada and the Northern Plains, the Midwest and Northeastern portions of the United States.

A large, powerful, high-pressure system originating in the Eastern or Western Pacific and stretching to the North Pole is required to displace the pocket of cold air. “These high-pressure systems can reach Alaska, but it is not typical for them to stretch all the way to the North Pole,” according to Senior Meteorologist, Brett Anderson.

Preventing Automatic Sprinkler System Freeze-ups

A common, yet significant winter challenge is knowing how to prevent interior water pipes from freezing. Nearly all commercial buildings have automatic sprinkler systems in place to protect against fire. While a fire can cause monumental loss, so can its polar opposite — ice.

A freeze-up of automatic sprinkler system pipes, often times caused by insufficient heating, can result in burst piping and subsequent water damage to a building and its contents. If a fire occurred while the sprinkler system was incapacitated, the resulting loss could be catastrophic.

To prevent sprinkler system pipes from freezing, these standard building management procedures should be followed:

  • Prior to the official start of winter, the building’s heating system should be completely serviced, then checked regularly throughout the cold months.
  • The structural components of the building should be inspected for any deficiencies (i.e. broken windows, wall cracks) and repaired promptly.
  • Temperatures in areas protected by wet pipe systems should be kept above 40°F.
  • Adequate heat should be provided to concealed areas (i.e. attics, areas above ceilings) where sprinkler piping has been installed.
  • Piping for outdoor systems should be buried below the frost level to prevent freezing. Exposed piping should either be insulated or heated.
  • Although less susceptible to freeze-ups, dry pipe systems should also be included in any winterizing program.
  • Gravity tanks should be checked for leaks and overflows. Should leaking or overflowing water freeze, it could cause structural damage and the subsequent collapse of the tank.
  • Fire pumps should be kept in a heated room and tested periodically. Suction taken from open water should have lines buried below the frost level and intake screens should be kept clear of ice.
  • Fire hydrants and valves should be kept clear of snow and ice to prevent freezing. Fire hydrants should be checked for adequate drainage and post indicator valves should be checked for leakage.
  • Once winter has arrived, management should keep a close watch on weather conditions. All commercial buildings and facilities should have a plan in place for handling extreme snowfalls and cold spells that may lead to problems
  • Supervisory personnel should be provided with a list of emergency numbers to call in case of trouble.

Despite following all of the recommended procedures, a freeze-up may still occur. If that happens, management should contact the experts for repair, rather than attempt to make repairs in a “Do-It-Yourself” manner.

You can learn more about dealing with cold weather by visiting the FEMA website

What ACT Does

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: What does a restoration company do?

Joe: We provide turnkey service for our clients. We can do the full restoration process. We can assist with cleaning up the exterior of the property, boarding up if there needs to be some board up done afterwards. We can provide security to the hotel if it needs to be secured. We can do temporary roofing where they tarp it in to prevent additional water from penetrating into the building. And then we go in and start cleaning up the inside of the building, depending on how badly damaged it is from the water.

The dry down process typically in a building if it’s fairly well damaged could be 5 to 7 days, but then if you have to remove sheet rock, wet insulation and/or carpeting, that could usually be done in that 5 to 7 day timeframe. But then you have the reconstruction to do. You got to go back and replace insulation, replace sheet rock, replace padding, carpet, vinyl wallpaper or paint, whatever it was on the walls. It can get very extensive and it can, like I said, be months. We have jobs from January from the Polar Vortex and here we are in May. We still have some jobs that are still in the process of being put back because of the delivery times for vinyl wallpaper and carpeting. Sometimes they get a fairly delayed delivery schedule on that stuff.

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The Polar Vortex

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: What things could happen to my property during a cold storm like the Polar Vortex?

Joe: That’s a phenomenon that occurred over the North Pole. When it occurred it opened up where the cold air circulates around the pole and pushed it down. In the past it pushed a lot of cold air all the way down into Georgia and Alabama and the temperatures were way colder than normal because of the cold air that was pushed down. A lot of times buildings just aren’t constructed with the insulation around the pipes and stuff to prevent them from freezing. So, when they freeze and then the weather warms up causing the pipes to thaw, the pipes break and you get a lot of bad water damage and stuff like that. That was a catastrophic event. I don’t know the dollar amount of damage versus Super Storm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Ike, but it was more widespread because it basically occurred from the northern part of the country to the southern part, and from Missouri all the way to the East Coast. We had losses everywhere in that, so it was a much larger geographic event than the hurricane would be. It was a big deal.

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After the Disaster

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: Which steps do restoration companies take after a hurricane disaster?

Joe: Well, for us the first thing is, when it’s safe for us to come in, our scout teams and teams of project managers that are there will go and inspect the property on the outside to see if there’s been anything damaged such as parking lot lights, lights on the building, trees and the roof, in the instance that any shingles have blown off. Then they take photos of that and go into the building. Using infrared cameras they can start assessing any damage from water intrusion into the building. And when they get a scope of what’s been damaged, then that can be reported upstream to the hotel owner and to the hotel management company. Then they can direct us as they see necessary to start restoring their property to pre-loss condition. Sometimes this can be minimal and sometimes it can be very extensive, meaning it could take several months to restore the property depending upon the extent of the damage.

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Quick Response

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: How quickly does a restoration company respond after a hurricane?

Joe: We’re there typically right after the hurricane passes because we mobilized in advance. So we’re within 50 to 100 miles of where we need to go and we have scout teams that can go in immediately when it’s clear and deemed safe by the local authorities to go in and start our assessment of the damage. We can’t say exactly how many hours after, but when it’s safe and it’s clear to go in, we’re there. Your local companies that are in those areas, they’re dealing with their local clientele. We’re dealing with national companies, national contracts that understand we’re not going to be there in 30 minutes to an hour after its clear. I mean, we’ve got to come in when it’s safe. And then if we need additional resources on top of what we have here at ACT, we have other restoration companies and other drawing companies. We have equipment companies that can provide us with the additional resources as needed to be able to respond to all our clients. So that’s a very challenging event for our operations team, but that’s what we’re here for, to help take care of our clients and figure that out.

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Hurricane Response

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: How often should you inspect your building for threats to water damage?

Joe: Recently, we worked on a couple of losses down in Austin Texas where they had some bad rains. The rains caused some fairly severe damage to one of our hotel clients’ properties. Some of it was from wind driven rain getting in around those units which aren’t properly sealed such as the air-conditioning units, the through wall units and around windows. And if those aren’t properly sealed or caulked, wind driven rain can enter into the building around those units. I think every hotel should be inspected every few years. I know that’s difficult to do because you have to get up on ladders, or on lifts, to actually survey the building and see if you need sealants or not, because they’re installed when the building was built. But, if the building's five to seven years old, they probably need to be inspected. It can help prevent water intrusion getting in the building with wind driven rain that you do experience with hurricanes. Imagine experiencing water intrusion with a 70-mile an hour wind storm with a lot of rain.

Helping Everywhere

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: How does a restoration company in Kansas help my company in a hurricane area?

Joe: It works very well. All our equipment is mobile: semi-trailers, tractor rigs, box trucks, vans and pickup trucks. So we move like an army, a caravan as we mobilize to the event. And with hurricanes, unlike tornados, you have a little bit more time to mobilize and get prepared because you know the path as the path changes, where you mobilize and set up your command center, those things might change a little bit before it hits land, but in three days’ time we can get there. And you can’t be in the middle of the storm. You need to be away from it, safe with your team and with your equipment. That way you can move in after the storm passes when it’s safe, respond and start your initial investigation to see what the damage is. Then we’re replying back to our clients that are corporately located around the country and let them know what’s happened and what the next steps are to start restoring their properties.

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Preparing for a Hurricane

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: How do I prepare for an unexpected hurricane?

Joe: Well I think they need to be proactive. Just like we are prepared with our staff and our team, they need to do the same. They know they are in a strike zone, so most of them, I presume, would have evacuation plans. They’re going to have backup plans for power; they’re going to have back up plans for the computers; and for relocating guests to other regions of the city or state if an evacuation is recommended by local authorities. They should also make sure they have all the contact information for their staff, so if people have to leave the area, they have ways to contact their staff. This way, when they’re ready to re-occupy and come back, you know they have their contact information for their staff and their team. I would think most of them are pretty well educated when it comes to having that.

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Contracting Early

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: Why should I contract a restoration company ahead of time?

Joe: Well, a big reason is just to have it in case the event it does happen. Having the peace of mind of knowing who they’re going to contact to come help clean up after the storm passes. If they do not have that company in place pre-event it becomes kind of a crapshoot as to who they’re going to hire and what their reputation is. You know, do they have proper insurance? Do they have proper background checks on their employees? How are they going to bill us for the work? There are horror stories about hotel companies, and not just hotel companies, but homeowners. Other property owners that have had bad experiences with restoration companies that are coming in chasing work, so to speak, and they don’t know who they’re really dealing with. They don’t have a relationship there, the trust, the rapport, all the things that ACT does pre-event with our clients, developing that relationship, that trust, the pricing. How are we going to be able to respond in the advantage? It’s a wide spread storm. There are lots of properties that are hit. How are we going to be able to handle that for multiple locations? All those things that we set up in advance are critical, but the smaller groups that may not think of it have to have somebody, they really do, and they really need to be thinking so they’re not stuck after the event exchanging business cards with somebody they don't know. They’ve already got that established up front.

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How ACT prepares

An interview excerpt with Joe Rothwell, CEO

Interviewer: How do restoration companies prepare for hurricane season?

Joe: Well for one, our operations team make's sure that all of our equipment is properly working and all our vehicles are in top shape or top maintenance mode. So, they’re getting organized in that respect. They’re also making sure that all their back up including: their equipment suppliers, fuel suppliers, generator suppliers, the roofing contractors that follow us in storms that repair roofs — all those back up sources that we need to have as a part of our response team are being organized, re-established and are on board with us to be able to respond. Our marketing and sales team will start sending out e-mails and contact information to our primary accounts and lets them know that we are ready to respond in the event the hurricane occurs. So, from sales and marketing to operations, we’re all getting prepared for that.

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Who to Trust

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: Who do you trust when a disaster happens?

Jeff Chester: Well I always say that the worst time to exchange business cards is in the middle of a disaster. You have a lot of predatory contractors that come through an area that’s been hit by a catastrophe. So, you really don’t know what their background is, whether they’re insured, whether they are capable of doing the job and whether they’re going to be there for you throughout the completion of the job. When we have a relationship in advance with our clients, they know who we are, but more importantly, we know who they are. We know what their specific needs are and we put together a list of what we call, service standards, unique to each company that tells us who needs to be in the communication loop and who has the authority to make decisions within that company. We try to take the catastrophe out of the catastrophe.

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Why prepare early?

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: Why should I prepare for a disaster ahead of time?

Jeff Chester: Well, you know if you don’t prepare for a disaster you have a disaster before the disaster strikes. Risk management is all about minimizing your exposure to potential danger and to potential cost. We try to help each facility, each community, each hotel and each commercial business to weather the storm and reduce business loss. Business continuity is very important to being profitable and taking care of your staff, residents or employees is even more important.

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Why ACT?

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: Why ACT?

Jeff Chester: I would just say that at ACT we consider it a privilege to serve people. I mean yes, we’re a for profit company, but it’s very rewarding to us to come into a customer’s world when it’s torn apart and they’re looking for answers, and we have the expertise to help them. Our motto is putting your world back together and to us that’s more than just a slogan. It’s really what we do for each job. When we train new employees to come in, we remind them that working in a catastrophic situation may become 9 to 5 for you. It may become regular and the tendency may be to become a little jaded to it, but for each individual, their world is torn apart. Either the building that they work in or the home that they live in, a lifetime of memories has been affected and we need to be very sympathetic and comforting to the people we work with. There’s great reward that comes from serving others. In fact I believe that there’s no greater reward than being in the service of other people.

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What gets overlooked

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: What often gets overlooked before a hurricane?

Jeff Chester: Looking into your insurance policy is vital. We’ve had clients that were hit by major hurricanes that thought they had, for instance, a $10,000 deductible like they would for a water line break or some type of catastrophe throughout the year. But, their policy may say that if there’s a named storm that you have a collective $100,000 deductible for all your properties and you really need to get with your insurance agent, broker, carrier, whoever it is that you’re working with and find out your exposure to a hurricane in particular? And whether it's any different than a day-to-day event?

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Disaster Preperation

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: How can I prepare myself for any type of disaster?

Jeff Chester: That is a great question and that is the way a risk manager or an operations manager needs to be thinking before a disaster hits. What are my vulnerabilities? And one of the things that we try to do in advance of any problems with a company is look at each of their properties and do an all threats assessment. And what I mean by all threats assessment is, for instance, what type of neighborhood are they in? Are they near an industrial neighborhood that could have some type of a chemical fire? Are there train tracks within a few blocks to where if there was a derailment with some type of hazardous substance, is there a possibility that their building could be affected by that? We try to have them work with local authorities, get to know your local fire department so that they know who you are. So when there’s a catastrophic widespread event they are like, "I have a relationship with those guys." You call them up and they come over and they help you out. Now when you talk about not being in hurricane company, the list is pretty long of potential threats and hazards. You got to think about manmade disasters or natural disasters.

What is the most extreme weather condition that that property is going to endure? Is it frigid temperatures with potential waterline breaks? Are they near a river or a lake where they might have ground water or a flood come in? Within the facility there’s a sprinkler system. What are the potentials of those just malfunctioning? You know we even go as far with some organizations to do active shooter scenarios. We unfortunately hear about it on the news all the time where somebody comes in with some type of mental illness and there’s a mass shooting, or someone who commits acts of violence. So that’s the thing that we want to think about, what are we going to do in that scenario? We may not be perfectly prepared, but we certainly need to think about what actions we are going to take. And ACT helps in those areas to prepare people for those unknown disasters.

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Hurricane Building Damage

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: What can I expect to happen to my business during a hurricane?

Jeff Chester: Well if you think about what is happening during a hurricane, you have 70-mile-an-hour winds, blowing rain sideways. Your building is designed for rain to come down from the top. It’s got a good roof, it’s got good drains, whatever type of guttering or scuppers, whatever they use to keep the rain out. But, your building is also designed to take air in and that’s usually through gable vents, through cobra vents and through roof vents. A lot of our properties and hospitality in senior care have what we call PTACs. These are individual air conditioning/heating units that you see sticking out of the side of the building for each room. All of those take air in and they’re designed for day-to-day rain that falls down vertically. And when the rain blows for five hours sideways, that rain is going to find its way in to all those areas of the building that really weren’t designed to take that kind. So, the building gets really wet. How to prepare for that? You know sometimes it’s difficult to impossible to cover every area, especially if you want to continue to get airflow into your building. So, the preparation part is asking yourself, do you have a company that’s going to be there immediately to start mitigating the loss? That means to minimize the damage and prevent secondary damage.

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Creating a Disaster Plan

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: How do I put together a disaster plan in advance?

Jeff Chester: Well that’s a great question. One of the things that I’ve done is realize that I’ve got my areas of expertise. And I don’t have all the answers, but I have put together relationships with people that can help from fire and life safety, to security issues. Obviously our area of expertise is repairing and restoring the physical damage to any property. We’ll put together what’s called a readiness plan for each of our customer’s properties, whether they have one property or they have a thousand properties. And one of the neat things about that is it doesn’t cost our client anything. We feel it’s worth that extra effort for them and for us to know about where the utility shutoffs for that particular property are. If they needed power, they had an extended power outrage, what type of generator? Some people think, "I’ll just run a generator." Well each generator has to be paired up specifically for that community for: how many amps they have; how many phases they have; how many volts; and what type of switchgear. Sometimes not having that knowledge in advance would delay getting them power for days. So what we’ll do in advance is we’ll find out all of that information and put it in a database, so that when they call ACT we’re sending the right response to them. Whether it be equipment, manpower, electricity, whatever it may be.

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ACT Response Time

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: How long does it take first responders to arrive at my property after a disaster with no forewarning?

Jeff Chester: Well with our network of 350 first responders, we are able to be anywhere that our clients are within an hour. Now obviously I’ll give you a good example. San Francisco is an area where we have some very high profile, large healthcare buildings. We have purposely set up a secondary group of first responders that are outside of the San Francisco area. So, if the big one, the big earthquake hits them, I know that my local resources are going to be focused on taking care of their families themselves, and if they weren’t damaged, they’re going to be busy anyway. So, we make sure that we have our redundancy and that we're able to bring in regional people that aren’t affected by a storm into an area that needs it.

So, I’m proud to say that we have never had to turn down a client during any type of storm because we have the secondary layer of responders that are a part of our team. You know our team as a whole is better than any one individual and we feel that that’s one of the unique strengths that ACT offers to our clients. It’s just that nationwide force to be able to come in to local catastrophic events.

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Hurricane Response Time

An interview excerpt with Jeff Chester, Vice President

Interviewer: How long does it take first responders to arrive at my property after a hurricane?

Jeff Chester: Well one of the nice things about hurricanes, if there are any, is that you get plenty of advance notice. So, as we’re monitoring the National Hurricane Center or NOAA, we realize where the cone of uncertainty is going to be. I don’t want to be on site when the hurricane hits. Nobody does, because we don’t want to have to suffer our own damage. Hurricane Katrina, it’s an iconic storm that people still remember and talk about. We had all of our semi-trucks, all of our manpower, all of our resources stationed in Jackson, Mississippi, which is half a day’s drive down to the New Orleans area. We weren’t sure exactly where it was going to hit. We were there two days in advance, but we knew that if we stationed there, we were going to get in there as quick as we possibly can to aid our clients. In fact, one of the reasons we were able to get into the New Orleans area so quickly was because we hired some off duty highway patrolmen to escort us through the blockades that the National Guard had set up.

We were actually able to take the business owners into their property where they couldn’t have gotten to their properties otherwise. We even took some people in from CNN, I believe, on one of our trips in. We were gaining access to areas that very few people were able to get access to and that gave us a real advantage to minimizing the secondary damage from that storm.

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