Putting Safety First

After disaster strikes at an elementary school, occupant safety is the priority
Friday, May 1, 2015

When a retail facility or an industrial factory closes as a result of a flood or fire, typically the first question asked by management is, “How quickly will we be back up in business?” But, when that facility happens to be an institution responsible for housing hundreds of elementary students, nothing matters more than keeping kids and staff safe.

In spring 2012, a southern Ontario elementary school was the unlucky site of just such a disaster. After a fire broke out in the science lab causing $500,000 in estimated damages,  questions loomed about the length of time that would be needed before classes could safely resume, and the safety of the students after the clean up.

The school contracted FirstOnSite Restoration to handle its delicate cleanup efforts—a company that proved it was willing to go beyond the regular call of duty, providing a stint of community service on the side, too.

Purveyors of knowledge

Jim Mandeville, senior project manager at FirstOnSite, is used to fielding questions from managers and building owners about the status of his team’s restoration—but speaking to an auditorium full of elementary school students and their parents? It was a task he had yet to engage in.

But after the school principal asked him to address the school community to explain the restoration process in order to help alleviate any concerns, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“The whole thing went pretty well,” he said, afterwards. “They had the typical questions any kid would have of a guy in a hard hat. And the staff and parents – they needed to understand the process in order to be assured that children would be safe when they came back to school.”

FirstOnSite, which opened its Hamilton branch in 2009, has racked up a number of high-stress cleanup jobs ever since, including the restoration of thousands of homes and businesses following the 2011 tornado in Goderich, and the 2011 wind storm that swooped through Hamilton and Niagara. Primarily focusing on restoration of homes and businesses following wind, fire or flooding damage, it also does work in mould, asbestos and hazardous waste removal—and even crime scene cleanup.

Mandeville explained that each job is different. While some properties require extensive emergency mitigation and reconstruction, others might involve restoration of furniture, kids toys or sensitive records.

The restoration at the school went very smoothly, in large part because of the very active communications that went on between FirstOnSite, the administration and the school board. “We all worked very closely together, and most children were able to return safely to classes only a few days following the fire.”

“The first time most of our customers meet us is usually among the worst day of their lives,” Mandeville said. “We have to help them through it. We try to get the restoration off and running so they can get back to normal as fast as possible.”

For more information, visit www.firstonsite.ca