Really Devastating Emergencies: How to respond to a multifamily building fire

Restorcore Blog

Q&A with a restoration first responder, who has more than a decade of experience. Learn how to respond to a multifamily building fire.

The US averages over one million residential fires per year, with roughly 30% of those happening in multifamily buildings.  

If you are a property manager in the US, more than likely you have faced a fire in one of your buildings… but even so, fires do not happen as often as water losses – so oftentimes a property manager will find themselves unsure on where to begin.  

In this blog, Beth Bencivenni, our VP of Sales with SecureCore, is talking with one of our seasoned first responders, Steve Lanciano, who has responded to over 100 different fires in his career as a restoration estimator, business developer and client advocate. He is sharing with us the tips and techniques he uses when helping guide a client through this most devastating disaster.

What are some of the most needed services immediately following a multi-family building fire?  

It is imperative that you stabilize and protect the site. Several inspections are likely to take place in the following days, so securing with temporary fencing or something similar to start. At the very least, caution tape and orange cones. Boarding up windows and doors provides protection for the site also, but make sure you are not disturbing the scene where the fire took place before they have a chance to investigate. You can also call on utility companies to shut down the electrical, gas, etc – remove meters, etc.  

Most importantly, residents are often displaced. Calling Red Cross, local municipalities (like local police station or the local city hall or similar) to get involved with providing a place for them to sleep, eat, get services together, etc. is an important step.  

If the building had a sprinkler system that needed to be shut down, and is still occupied to a certain extent – it might be necessary to call in fire watch to provide 24 hour surveillance to watch for smoke.

Right after a property manager hears that there has been a fire, tensions and emotions are running HIGH. What advice would you give to a property manager as they start to act on the information they just received?  

Stay calm and rely on whatever training you have to help you navigate the situation. Rely on your resources – rely on your vendors – they are the experts you trust with the day-to-day challenges, and they’ll come through for you now. It is key for a manger to be calm and confident so they can set the tone for those involved. Document everything – who you speak to, what the instructions are, write it all down.

Who usually makes the decision on whether a building is safe to be reentered, following a fire?  

Typically, a local Fire Marshall needs to inspect and release a building. Some instances may call for further inspections from a structural engineer. It is important to NOT DISTURB the scene where the fire originated until it has been cleared or released by the fire Marshall.  

What should a property manager do if they have doubts about building reentry safety, but have not heard from this entity?  

When in doubt, stay out. Contact the local municipality or fire department to see if they can send someone out to inspect the building condition.  

What services can we expect to need later on 

Cleaning services, smoke cleaning services, demolition services, etc. (All of which may be done by a reputable restoration contractor, like RestoreCore). Eventually you’ll need to rebuild some (or all) of the building so you’ll need a company lined up for rebuild. (Which could be a turnkey restoration company, like RestoreCore). You’ll likely be filing a claim so contact your insurance agent can start coordination.

How can you get the Red Cross involved to help?

Your local municipality may have a contact they can provide. Find additional contact information at  

What help do they normally provide?  

Shelter, food, and water for a few days. They can provide a meeting place nearby if the building is uninhabitable and residents need further instructions.  

Media shows up. What should you say or not say?  

I recommend addressing this before anything happens – know who is willing and able to provide a media statement on behalf of your company. Don’t say “no comment” but instead refer them to the media contact for your company. Make sure the site staff has these instructions also.  

Why may we need multiple fire investigates for just ONE fire? 

Every insurance entity involved or impacted by the fire is going to want to know the cause. They’ll typically hire their own third-party investigation firm to determine what they believe the cause and origin may be. The involvement of renters and their insurance policies in condos complicates things when they have a stake in a claim. Ultimately, the fire Marshall is instrumental in determining the cause and origin of the fire and filing the report that the city/state will recognize. That doesn’t mean other parties won’t have an invested interest in seeing and investigating the cause on their own.  

After sharing tips on the unfortunate topic of property fires, we’d love to hear from you!

Have questions? Want to tell us about a strategy you implemented under similar circumstances? Use RestoreCore as a resource by contacting us!

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