Canadian Rental Service

Remediate this!

By Jim Chliboyko   

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The rain came hard in the area around Calgary for those three days in June 2013. The higher country just west of the city experienced between 7.8 and 11.8 inches of rain in just 72 hours, depending on where it was measured.

Restoring buildings that have been damaged by water and fire is not as straightforward as drying them out and cleaning them up. Rental stores that learn the ropes can offer a specialized service.

Of course, this water had to go somewhere, especially since the local ground was already wet from a modest rain just prior to the storms.

The water eventually followed the rivers east and otherwise downhill, and to places like Calgary and High River, causing a rolling state of emergency throughout southern Alberta, basically covering the ground from Lethbridge in the south to Red Deer in the north. In Calgary, the water slammed into Stampede Park, home of the famous Calgary Stampede. Not even the Saddledome, the home of the Calgary Flames, was spared. By June 22, the level of water within the Dome reportedly went as high as the eighth row. So, the city had an entire stadium to gut and clean, amongst a great number of other properties. Welcome to the world of disaster remediation.

At the time, the Flames president told the media the good news: that they had access to the biggest water pumps available in North America. According to a Golder Associates newsletter, one of the companies involved in the cleanup, “once the flooding subsided, over 30 million gallons of water was pumped out of the building. The remaining water in the Saddledome, combined with the river sediment, sludge and sewage carried and deposited by the river, created a high risk of bacterial contamination and fungal growth, if not addressed quickly.”

And cleaning up after 30 million gallons of water is not just about doing a lot of mopping and pumping. From the newsletter: “Following Golder’s initial walkthrough, our scope of work grew to include developing the overall remediation scope of work, reviewing proposed remediation procedures, co-developing and executing a remediation clearance protocol and clearance testing, documenting and monitoring the remediation activities, conducting worker exposure monitoring, indoor air quality monitoring, asbestos consulting, and water quality sampling.”


According to the Globe and Mail, it took two crews working around the clock all summer — to the tune of 650,000 person-hours — to get the building ready for its first September concert and subsequent pre-season hockey games. Going in the trash was anything electrical, anything “soft” like seat cushions and anything mechanical that had been underwater, director of building operations, Robert Blanchard, told the Globe.

While disaster remediation can address instances like fires and chemical spills also, cleaning up after water is a big one for remediation firms.

“Water is over 50 per cent of what we do now,” said Ken Robinson, CEO of Paul Davis Systems Canada and also the current chair of the Restoration Contractors Association of Canada (RCOC). “You can have water damage that comes in through roof or windows, a river can flood or a pipe can burst.”

“With fires, there are not as many things that can go bad (like they can with water).”

Hamilton-based Neil de Jong, with ITE Rentals, says, that when the crisis comes “it is usually a pani. The customer picks the equipment up, or we might drop (something) off at their site, they know what they need. We don’t even get asked to recommend what would be most suitable. Dealing with the industrial customer, we simply supply. But with homeowner rentals, of which we see much less, they usually need advice.”

The fact is that it would benefit the average rental outlet to perhaps be at the ready for instances of remediation, in terms of being able to serve clients in a panic mode after a disaster. There’s a lot to know.

The two big certifying bodies in restoration are the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) and also the RIA (Restoration Industry Association). The IICRC has broken down the complexities of water damage in their document, the S-500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration. When dealing with water damage, things aren’t merely just wet and dry. There are, in fact, three categories of types of water; in simplest terms, these are clear, grey and black waters (black is bad, though they tend not to use those terms anymore). There are also four kinds of water damage classification. To deal with these issues, one needs knowledge, experience and some pretty serious equipment.

Mario Muscat, for instance, is particularly big on having quality equipment.

“Basically, some of the equipment (you need) are big pumps, small portable generators, water extractors and specialized drying equipment, but it’s got to be the right product,” says Muscat, regional vice-president of GAL Power Systems in Toronto, mostly regarding water-specific incidents. “The biggest thing is getting rid of the water and having things like the big pumps and emergency lighting.”

Says PDS’s (and RCOC chair) Robinson, “I would be thinking that they would want to have equipment that would be a stop-gap measure, like a commercial dehumidifier. It’s about getting the interaction between dehumidification and air movement correct. For that, you need a couple of air movers and a dehumidifier. Once you get into anything larger, they’re going to have to go to a professional.”

Having proper monitoring equipment is also a necessity. Robinson says that there are various kinds of moisture probes available, with a price range from $200 to about $700. Drywall, for instance, can wick a deceptive amount of moisture. Robinson suggests brief one- or two-day courses to learn to be able to use the infrared equipment properly, as well.

“You need right monitoring equipment. You need to take readings and different kinds of readings, too,” said Robinson. “Use things like infrared technology to see if things are wet. You see Mike Holmes on TV, he learned that from us.”

For rental operators, their understanding of the situation, as well as their understanding of a client facing remediation, is also paramount, says Muscat.

“You have got to understand the situation and the customer and the pressure they’re under,” said Muscat. “Often, they’re working for two bosses, the insurance company and the business or home owner. And it’s a feast or famine business. They’re not going to go out and buy something they are going to use once a year.” This is where the well-supplied rental operator would come in.

Education, however, is also obviously key.

“One of the things (managers) can look at is what certifications are there available. Are there any courses that they could take? For general water damage repair, it’s two-day course,” says Robinson, whose own group does offer quicker courses, like lunch-and-learns. “It’s going to give them most of what they need to know to understand. What are the different ramifications? How much can you repair, and when do you have to tear out?”

“I really think that industry needs more people with deeper knowledge.”

“Water’s the big one and there’s lots of new technology coming on board. There’s a science to it and a language to it.”

Speed is also a factor when dealing with water-caused remediation. Once it has rushed in and done its damage, water starts to change if it hasn’t been completely drained.

“If you don’t handle water quickly, it moves to something more dangerous, fast,” said Robinson. “You leave that a week or two and you get mold growth. If we get in there quickly, we can dry things in place without having to tear things apart. There’s a real opportunity to mitigate cost by getting in there quickly.”

“There’s a small window where clean water loss becomes a grey water loss. The job could change all by itself,” said Muscat. If a rental facility gets the word out that particular pieces of remediation equipment are available, people will tend to flock to them in an emergency.

Like Robinson, Muscat also advises for people unfamiliar with industrial remediation to get educated and take a course or two from a recognized institution, like the IICRC.

The IICRC itself speaks up for its educational component, saying on their website that “the education involved in water damage restoration training teaches the technician to tell the difference between all the classes and categories and form a restoration plan based on those factors. It’s important to make sure the technician has the right knowledge and tools for the job. Infrared probes are used to tell the extent of the destruction, as well as air movers, air scrubbers, different sizes and types of dryers and blowers, special hardwood dryers, and dryers designed specifically for drying the sub-floor and inner wall cavities. Armed with water damage restoration training and the proper tools, most situations are salvageable.”

“One should do the course for appreciation, and tailor your response,” said Muscat. “The knowledge base is so scarce, a lot of people learn on the fly—and it’s also hugely related to the quality of the equipment.”

But, always, one must be cautious and not underestimate any remediation situation. To quote Alexander Pope, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

“A little bit of knowledge or misconception can definitely hurt you,” said Robinson. “When I first started we used a lot less equipment.”

For an example, basements should be one particular area of caution.

Says Robinson, “You do have to be careful in setting up in basements. If you set up air movement improperly, you can create a reverse furnace flow. It’s like a blowback. Air flow starts coming down the chimney and can actually produce backflow that brings carbon monoxide into the house.

To ward against something like that happening, Robinson says he puts carbon monoxide detectors on each floor. It’s a good reminder to always be cautious.

“Know what to do, know the equipment and know how to use it,” says Muscat. “And the big thing is if you know the people (and what their needs are), they’ll remember that.”

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