Pressure Wash During A Natural Disaster
Over the years the pressure washing contractor has explored many ways to market their services to almost every imaginable opportunity out there. It may come as a surprise to some but pressure washing after a natural disaster could very well be the next frontier for our industry. My experience with working in natural disasters areas are two fold: I spent many days and nights as a firefighter on the fire lines protecting homes and business’s from fast moving wild land fires throughout California before I owned a pressure washing business. As a pressure washer, I traveled to southern California after the infamous L.A fires in early 2000 where I spent several days pressure washing homes that accumulated soot and embers carried by the drift smoke.
Unfortunately, natural disasters and natural disaster clean-up is big business. According to the ISO/PCS Insurance Information Institute, in 2007, insured loss or damage cost due to wild fires was 1.6 billion dollars. And this was just for the state of California. Hurricane damage cost and clean-up during the ’05 & ’06 hurricane season in the southern region of the U.S. reached a staggering 58.8 billion.
Flood damage and clean up cost in the mid west and northeast also reflect staggering figures in which billions of dollars of aide from the federal government is funneled to these locales to assist communities and often time entire states get back to some semblance of normalcy.
My trip to southern California was originally prescribed as volunteer work to assist home and business owners clean up their property. While down in the fire zone I soon realized that pressure washing was a much needed and sought out service. Every imaginable outside fixture that fell victim to the intense drift smoke but avoided the actual fire was seemingly fair game for pressure washing. Community after community had one form or another of drift smoke ash accumulation that required a remedy. Insurance adjusters from different insurance companies beckoned our assistance to quickly rinse off properties and cars in quick fashion in order for them to accurately determine if any fire damage occurred, per the insurance claim filed by the policy holder. As we jokingly say in the pressure washing industry, I was definitely redefining the term “splash and dash” during our time in this region. No cleaning chemicals were required, just a quick rinse. The insurance adjusters only wanted to see if there was any fire damage to the property in question.
My curiosity about the type of insurance claims prompted me to inquire in between rinsing. I was surprised to hear one insurance adjuster reflect in saying that the majority of the policy holders file claims to have their properties repainted. I countered by explaining that just by pressure washing the likely hood of obtaining pre-fire condition was realistic – all with a fraction of the cost it would take an insurance company to pay a painting company to repaint the property. Beyond that I explained that if the property did indeed need painting, one must pressure wash it first.
Captain Gregory Bounds from the Suisun City Fire Department, a northern California fire department that deploys each year during wild fire season explains that ash and soot from drift smoke can blanket communities for hundred of square miles. “With any significant wild land fire incident you can pretty much guarantee that these communities will need the services of a company to spray away the accumulation of ash.” He further states the need of having pressure washing services at the fire base camp “De-mob (demobilization) is mandatory for the release of fire department vehicles upon that safety inspection by a certified mechanic (ICS 212 form). For the de-mobe mechanics to inspect a dirty, muddy fire engine delays the process of inspecting that vehicle properly to get it repaired if needed and home safely. It is not uncommon for strike teams to drive hundreds of miles for it to return home. The power washing would allow the mechanics to visibly see damaged areas from 4×4 driving and accumulated dirt and soot that sticks to electrical components, u-joints and windows.”
Asked if pressure washing could be a viable service for natural disaster incidents such as wild land fires? Captain Bounds remarked “the need is there today, however a pressure washing company could not just show up at base camp and announce that they are there to pressure wash”. Captain Bounds recommends anyone wishing to explore this service to begin by contacting their local FEMA representative or start at their local fire department to determine who to contact to get your pressure washing company listed as a vendor during wildfire incidents. Having your pressure wash company participate in natural disaster incidents will require patience and determination especially dealing with all the bureaucratic paper work that often comes as a pre-requisite. However once you obtain the necessary clearance as a vendor you stand a good chance of traveling from once incident to the next throughout the summer months providing a much needed service to the men and women that put their life on the line by fighting these raging infernos.
Natural disasters are not just limited to wild fires in the western part of the U.S. Take Mathew Johnson from Pressure Washing Services located in Milford, NY. Mr. Johnson and I spoke on natural disaster clean up the summer before his service area was hit with significant floods due to the unusual amount of rainfall that year. He put the natural disaster clean up concept to work. “What Carlos applied in California, I did the same thing here in New York except I applied it to our natural disaster – flooding” Mathew said. He further explains, “For our industry, it is a unique service that if you are the only one providing it today you are almost guaranteed that your phone will be ringing to provide services during a time of need.”
Now before you run down to the local fire department and ask the fire chief to give you a call when a natural disaster occurs, you must first determine whether or not this “add on” service to your pressure washing business is right for you. There are many considerations that you must evaluate before embarking to a natural disaster area:
- Days away from regular pressure washing business;
- Cash on hand. Some disaster areas will not have functional ATM’s or banks readily open in the area.
- No pay. Insurance claims and payments can be a long drawn out process. Can you afford to not get paid from 60-90 days?
- Emotional impact. Working in natural disaster zones especially hurricane and flood incidents can have an emotional impact on you especially if you frequently in contact with casualties;
It would be a sound recommendation for you to contact your local insurance agent in your community first. They could have the contact information for you immediately verses you having to track it down.
Providing pressure washing services during a natural disaster will require due diligence and a lot of preparation on your part. Today you may wish to begin on a smaller scale right in your service area. A house fire, depending on the intensity, can blanket adjoining houses with soot and ash. A suggestion would be to make up fliers about your pressure washing services and distribute them discreetly around the location of the house fire well after the initial shock that normally plaques home or business owners during this difficult time. This concept also applies to local flooding, coastal oil spills and small grass fires in and around communities across the U.S.
As you continue to evaluate your company and the services it provides you owe it to yourself to do not ignore the opportunities that lay during times such as when a natural disaster strikes – big or small. As history has shown, disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods will continue to hold communities hostage for years to come. Could it be time that the pressure washing industry contributes to help build these communities back?
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