For residents of a three-storey apartment building in North Vancouver, December 7th, 2011 was just like any other day—that is, until a fire broke out in the building’s electrical room. This caused the power to go out and the elevators to be shut down as the hallways and apartments filled with smoke. Dozens of people who called this building home were forced out of their units, just weeks before the holidays.
Officials initially thought residents would be back in their apartments a few days after the fire, but the restoration process turned out to be far more complicated than anticipated. After FirstOnSite Restoration arrived at the scene, they quickly discovered that the electrical room was completely burnt, and wiring to other parts of the building had also been affected. There was no power anywhere in the building and approximately 40 doors had been knocked down by the fire department in their efforts to help residents and secure the fire. Smoke from the fire had travelled through the elevator shafts and into the units, the laundry room and some storage rooms. Water from battling the fire had destroyed the carpets and walls.
FirstOnSite crews got to work inspecting the building to give residents a sense of when they could be back in their units, but even that job wasn’t routine. In order inspect the burnt wires, FirstOnSite had to remove drywall to get the affected areas. Upon doing this, the team discovered asbestos in the walls, meaning there was now an additional health hazard and special removal procedures were required. As for the dozens of doors that had been knocked down, they were unique 20-minute fire-rated doors that couldn’t be found easily or quickly at local suppliers. If FirstOnSite were to install different doors, it would need to reframe the doors—an extra step and expense.
A town hall meeting was called three days after the fire, with more than a dozen insurance adjustors and the fire marshal on hand to explain the situation to residents. Despite the tremendous amount of work that lay before them, FirstOnSite promised the residents they would be back in their homes before Christmas. In fact, the project manager gave a date and approximate time of December 22 in the afternoon. Residents were given just 15 minutes by fire officials to visit their units that day and collect their essentials in the hopes they were able to be back home soon.
Working with three shifts and upwards of 40 people, FirstOnSite got down to business. The team brought in a temporary generator while working to repair the main electrical room and wires that ran throughout the building. Air scrubbers worked overtime to get the smell of smoke and burnt wires out of the building and out of the residents’ contents.
Any time power is cut off to buildings and residents aren’t able to return, there is always the likelihood of food spoilage. In this case, it was no different. Many residents had been in the middle of preparing meals at 1 p.m. when the fire alarm rang and had to leave their food out in the open – for what ended up being days. Fridges and freezers also had to be cleaned and sanitized.
As for the doors, they presented a unique challenge. FirstOnSite conducted an extensive search in order to locate enough correct doors for the building. It found a supplier with 40 doors in Calgary and had them shipped to the site immediately. The promise of being home for Christmas meant that unique solutions were required in order to meet that timeline. Typically, preparation of the doors would be handled offsite, but doing the work onsite meant the job could be completed quickly – so an elaborate station was set up in the parkade. The doors were suspended vertically, so they could be painted on both sides. The station included portable heating, air scrubbers and the creation of a negative air pressure environment to protect the rest of the site.
The discovery of asbestos meant that days of delays could be possible, and crews were up against the clock. Again, FirstOnSite set up special site protections then cleared the area of the dangerous toxin. They rebuilt the damaged areas, including replacing walls and flooring, painting and content cleaning in the common areas.
With the work done, the chief building inspector for North Vancouver was called in to make sure the rebuild was up to code and sign off on the work. The work was approved and the residents were given their new keys.
FirstOnSite Restoration kept its promise and the North Vancouver apartment residents were able to safely return to their homes on December 22, 2011 at 2 p.m. – only 15 days after the disaster. The company was able to react quickly and creatively, with the right equipment and expert crews, calling on their network of suppliers and proving once again that they can work with dozens of insurers and dozens of challenges to deliver excellent results.
For more information, visit www.firstonsite.ca