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    It had been a very long week which was finally coming to an end… or so I thought. I was about to find out it was far from over. As I listened to phone messages on my way home from work that Friday evening, I could tell by the urgency in the voice of the disaster recovery representative from Service Master that he was calling about a serious matter.

    soot in return air duct
    The result of a hospital fire, soot particulates stick to air duct returns (as pictured here) and throughout the facility requiring multiple cleaning and restoration crews.

    There had been a fire in a nearby hospital requiring a complete evacuation of the building and transfer of about 150 patients by buses and ambulances to other hospitals. Likely caused by a cigarette, the fire started in the subbasement where rags lying near PVC piping caught fire and smoke quickly traveled to all floors of the facility. 

    That evening, I met with hospital personnel and the lead team from Service Master to assess the damage and prioritize the work involved to get the hospital up and running again. Smoke and fire damage were pervasive, requiring remediation of all the air-handling units (AHUs). We needed a well-conceived, detailed project plan on how and where to begin. 

    Fortunately, I had access to mechanical drawings of the hospital’s entire HVAC system because Service-Tech had serviced it since 1985.

    Crews from our other Service-Tech locations in Ohio mobilized early Saturday morning to begin cleaning and deodorizing the air-handing units and to help further evaluate the level of contamination throughout the building. The amount of work required was overwhelming; it became clear I needed to recruit additional resources.

    I called other HVAC contractors I had befriended over the years through NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association). These guys were friends, but I knew I was asking a lot – they needed to drop what they were doing and reschedule their own projects. Stepping up to help right away was Gary Brustoski from Clear Vent (Ashland, OH) whose crew worked 10-hour shifts for seven consecutive days. Dan and Terry Lee from United Safety Services (Pittsburgh) and John Line from Sani Vac (Warren, MI) also came to the rescue with their crews and equipment. 

    I gave blueprints to each crew’s project manager and assigned them different AHUs and ductwork of highest priority to service. We identified 11 of the 35 HVAC systems as most critical to reopening the hospital. These systems covered Receiving, Surgery, Recovery, Intensive Care Unit, Critical Care Unit, Radiology, Pharmacy, two patient floors, as well as important common areas, such as the cafeteria.

    By tackling different areas of the hospital, we’d be out of each other’s way. Work assignments were also coordinated with Service Master’s disaster recovery team which was tasked with much of the removal of soot particulates.  Tremendous amounts of soot had collected on the ceilings, walls, equipment and electrical components.

    In order to completely and properly clean, sanitize and deodorize the ducts, service technicians from each crew cut access areas to enter the ductwork and resealed the openings after work was completed. The critical HVAC remediation work by Service-Tech and the other three companies represented about 30 technicians and 1500 man-hours over a period of 10 days. With all of us working together, we achieved what seemed a monumental task: we met the hospital’s very ambitious deadline to reopen just 10 days after the fire. 

    This could not have happened without each crew collaborating and pulling together to handle a project of this magnitude. As difficult as this was to accomplish so much in a short period of time, it was inspiring to witness different companies (competitors no less) join together. There was a spirit of cooperation among hard-working people doing whatever it takes to get the job done so doctors and nurses could treat patients again.   

    Many thanks to all the guys from Clear Vent, United Safety Services and Sani Vac.   

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