Q: I recently had a friend’s home catch fire. How do these fire-water restoration companies work? What all do they do and how? The owner of the home said the companies (yes, plural) were there within hours of the fire being put out, admitting that they were listening to the radio scanner. Please advise.
A: I’m terribly sorry to hear about your friend’s fire. I was an insurance restoration contractor for much of my working career in construction, and I know all too well how devastating fires can be — not only to the structure and contents, but emotionally as well.
You raise a very interesting question. On the one hand, an insurance restoration company is no different than any other contractor. It needs to be licensed, bonded and insured in accordance with the laws of the city and state it operates in, and it needs to follow all the same building codes, workplace regulations and other laws that other contractors follow.
On the other hand, insurance restoration requires a lot of very specialized skills. The contractor has to understand how fire and smoke affect a structure; what can and can’t be salvaged; how to remove smoke odor; how to safely dry a structure; how to prevent mold and if it's there, how to deal with it properly; and many other situations that the average remodeling contractor or new builder never faces.
Insurance restoration also requires a lot of specialized equipment and chemicals, and the proper training to know how to use them safely and effectively.
There are plenty of “fire truck chasers” out there — the restoration equivalent of ambulance chasers in the legal profession — and personally I would suggest that your friend stay away from companies that resort to those types of business practices. On the flip side of that, the large national insurance companies often have deals cut with the large national restoration companies, and unfortunately that's beginning to squeeze out many of the good, smaller independent restoration contractors.
These national chains are typically represented by locally owned franchises, and while in my experience they usually do a good job, you have to be aware that if anything goes wrong, you may be dealing with a large, faceless national corporation at some point.
Hopefully your friend has a good relationship with his or her homeowner’s insurance agent. I would suggest asking the agent for a list of names of reputable restoration contractors that the agent can personally recommend to do the work; interview at least two of them; ask for references, check their licenses and so on; and then go from there.
Have a home repair or remodeling question for Paul? He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.