For residents of a three-story apartment building in North Vancouver, December 7th, 2011 was just like any other day. That is until fire broke out in the building’s electrical room. The power went out, elevators shut down, and hallways and apartments filled with smoke. Dozens of people who call 275 West Second Street home where forced out just weeks before the holidays.
Fire officials initially thought residents would be back in their homes in a few days, but the restoration process was a more complicated than originally anticipated. FIRST ONSITE was on site shortly after receiving a call about the fire. When they arrived, the team saw that the electrical room was completely burnt and wiring to other parts of the building was also affected.
There was no power anywhere in the building. Most of doors of the building had been knocked down by the fire department too – approximately 40 doors. Smoke from the fire had traveled through the elevator shafts and affected units, the laundry room and some storage rooms as well. Water from battling the fire also added to the damage – soaking carpets and walls.
The crews got to work inspecting the building to give residents a sense of when they could be back in their units, but the job wasn’t routine as it appeared. As FIRST ONSITE began inspecting the burnt wires, it had to remove drywall to get the affected areas. It found asbestos in the walls, meaning the job got a bit more complicated because of the 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 FIRST ONSITE were to install different doors, it would need to re-fr the doors – an extra step and expense.
A town hall meeting was called three days after the fire, with more than a dozen insurance adjusters and the fire marshal, to explain the situation to residents. Despite the tremendous amount of work that lay before them, FIRST ONSITE promised the residents they would be back in their homes before Christmas. In fact, the project manager gave a date 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 hope they were able to be back home soon.
Speed and Resources
Working with three shifts and upwards of 40 people, FIRST ONSITE got right to work. It brought in a temporary generator while it worked to fix the main electrical room and wires throughout the building. Air scrubbers worked overtime to get the smell of smoke and burnt wires out of the building and the residents’ contents. Anytime power is cut off to buildings for a long time 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 had to be cleaned as well as the power didn’t return to the building for some time.
As for the doors, they presented a unique challenge. FIRST ONSITE had to call around for some time before they located enough doors for the building. It found a supplier with 40 doors in Calgary and had them shipped to site immediately. The preparation of the doors required the crews to set up a special painting station in the parkade. The doors had to be suspended vertically, so they could be painted on both sides. It was an elaborate set up – including portable heating, air scrubbers and the creation of a negative air pressure environment to protect the rest of the site- but having the work done on site meant the job could be completed quickly. The discovery of asbestos can mean days of delays and crews were up against the clock. They managed to set up special site protection and clear the area of the dangerous toxin and rebuild 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 sign off on the work and make sure the rebuild was up to code. Not long after, the work was approved and the residents were given their new keys.
FIRST ONSITE 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 with the right equipment and specialist 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.