Kirklynn Crosby wants his fellow McMurrayites to be vigilant when it comes to the cleanup of their homes post-fire.
The warning comes after a harrowing experience for him and his family, where they discovered their house was anything but “fine,” as their initial inspection indicated.
His insurance provider’s preferred restoration company inspected his Thickwood house, took 30 minutes to clean the ducts, checked the attic, and gave Crosby the all-clear.
Doubly concerned for their children, Crosby and his wife Tonia Rowe requested a second inspection to be sure their home was safe. During the evacuation, their infant son contracted croup and was temporarily on a ventilator.
The preferred company came back, needing to use Crosby’s own cleaning supplies, and told the family their home was safe.
Shortly after, the oilsands worker noticed his attic hatch hadn’t been closed, so he climbed up and poked his head in. What he saw outraged him.
Burnt pine needles and ash were littered throughout the attic, and the insulation was discoloured. The assessor had climbed fully into the attic, and told Crosby that it was fine.
“I felt rage, anger,” he said, looking at his sons with a tear in his eye. “I couldn’t believe that they’d put my family at risk.”
The father of two immediately called the company that had conducted the inspection, saying they needed to come and take another look. Within minutes of the call, the representative accepted that the attic needed to be cleaned.
“He knew it was there,” Crosby said. “I called them out on it, and within 10 minutes they called back and said ‘well, we’ve been cleared to do the attic now.'”
However, the family no longer trusted his insurance provider’s “preferred vendor.” They reached out to another restoration company to come in and do the third assessment and cleaning.
That company, Alberta Fire Restoration, discovered much more needed to be done. His ceiling tiles, dryer vent, microwave, mattresses, and couch also all had to be replaced due to smoke damage. In addition, AFR discovered that the ducts hadn’t been properly cleaned, and needed to be redone.
AFR President Mike Feldstein says it’s a common problem that they’ve found post-fire.
“Three out of four homes (that we look at) have had disgusting HVAC systems,” he said. “Dirty vents, literally to the point where some of the exhaust fans were still clogged with dust.”
The Mix News Department has received several complaints over the past month from employees of restoration companies. Some have claimed that their employers are encouraging sub-par practices in HVAC cleaning in order to complete more jobs in a day, while others have spoken of little training.
Feldstein, from Toronto, created Alberta Fire Restoration after the Slave Lake disaster in 2011. He said a common problem when companies arrived in Fort McMurray was the recruitment process as they rushed to meet the demand during a mass cleanup.
“We sent really bad (contractors) at the beginning,” he said, noting many companies were recruiting out of the food bank lineup without providing any extensive training. “That’s our problem. We screwed up, we sent a bad contractor, here’s a new better one.”
Feldstein, Crosby, and Rowe are trying to get the message out to residents that they don’t need to accept a first round of restoration work if they’re not comfortable with the results.
“Do not sign off on the work,” Crosby said. “Wait as long as your policy will allow you to. If you sign off, you have no legal recourse.”
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, in Alberta there is a two-year limit on guarantees for restoration work. Some contractors may offer longer warranties, which should be available to the consumer.
The IBC has repeatedly reminded residents that they have choices when it comes to the work being done on their home. While insurers will provide a list of preferred vendors, policy holders are able to research and select the contractor that they’re most comfortable, whether they’re on the list or not.
IBC Director of Media Steve Kee said if there’s sub-par work, most insurers have a quality-of-work guarantee that allows for the restoration to be completed properly.
“Speak to the contractor and your adjuster to outline the concerns,” he told Mix News. “The contractor will usually be willing to rectify any deficient work and make things right.”
If that doesn’t work, Kee noted that each insurance company has their own escalation process to address problems. Extreme circumstances can also enter a formal resolution process outlined in the Alberta Insurance Act.
As far as Crosby and Rowe are concerned, it should be done right the first time.
“Those things should never be overlooked,” Rowe said. “We’ve never gone through a disaster before, we don’t know what to look for.”
Note: The restoration company Crosby and Rowe dealt with is not being named out of respect for rectifying processes.