This is What Can Happen When the Sprinkler System Doesn’t Work…

The previous post on fire protection systems training talked about systems and the importance of maintaining that equipment.  The following describes one instance and the consequences if the sprinkler system isn’t operational.

On December 1, 2008 a warehouse building, located in Dyersburg Tennessee and owned by the Bekaert Corporation, was destroyed by fire. The building complex is shown in the photo below.

 

The wing on the left was the side that was completely destroyed. At the time of the fire, the warehouse had been leased to Briggs and Stratton for storage of their lawn mower products.  It was later determined that Briggs and Stratton lost approximately $25,000,000.00 in inventory.  When the lease was signed, one of the clauses stated that Briggs accepted the building in an “As Is, Where Is” condition.  It also required Briggs to make any repairs required by codes to bring the building into compliance.  Codes, in turn, required that Briggs obtain a certificate of occupancy prior to moving into the building – neither of which were done.  (Our involvement in this investigation was as a codes consultant.)  Briggs moved in to the building, brought in their products and stacked them to the point where the use of the building would have been classified “High Piled Storage”.  For over one year, the building contained products that were put at risk by the manufacturer, Briggs and Stratton.  When the investigation into the fire had been completed, there were some differing opinions as to the cause of the fire.  However, most of the discussion was centered on a metal halide lamp and a bulb that possibly exploded.  Because most of Briggs’ products were stacked above 12 feet, the explosion of a metal halide bulb could easily have ignited combustible material, ie, pallets wrapped with plastic. With no sprinkler system in operation, there was no way to stop the fire in its initial stages.  As a result, the building and all its contents were destroyed.

Using Drones for Claims Investigations

 

The insurance claims industry has been publishing articles claiming to increase the use of drones for investigating property claims. Travelers Insurance Company was recently highlighted in an article in Insurance Journal magazine titled “Travelers’ Drone Program is Changing the Way its Claims Reps Do Business”, dated May 11, 2017.  In the article, Travelers is teaching claims adjusters to use drones to inspect property instead of physically going to the property and doing the inspection.  Where roofs are concerned, there is an obvious safety benefit.  However, the move is to eliminate sending an adjuster altogether thereby eliminating the expense of travel and on-site adjusting time not to mention is reduction in claim handling time.  What about auto claims and water damage claims and fire claims?  If a drone can be used to assess the damage without sending an adjuster to the scene, then the cost savings to the carrier will be very beneficial.  However, whatever cannot be seen by an adjuster now will not be seen by a drone either.  Hidden damage in roofs, vehicles or structures will present the same problem that it does today.  That is, what is not viewable and is not accounted for will have to examined and dealt with when the damage is discovered.  This further implies that roofers will be submitting estimates for additional work.  Similarly, auto mechanics and body shops will be submitting estimates for additional work when hidden damage is brought to light in their respective jobs.  Building contractors will be doing the same thing when they discover problems in structures that will have to be addressed before the building is ready to be reoccupied.  As tempting as drone technology is to insurance carriers; there are restrictions regarding flight over certain areas.  The FAA prohibits flight over certain populated areas and as a matter of safety, they are restricted within a certain distance from airports.  There are also concerns of privacy and whether or not a carrier might be spying on a customer.  Furthermore, can the photographic data be used to intentionally deny coverage to a customer as well as support a claim? Reports of carriers intentionally denying or shorting customers on their settlements is not unheard of and will continue.  Drone technology will facilitate this process.  After all is said and done, drone technology still has a ways to go before it is fully accepted as a common way of doing business.

Chevy Impala Exploding Manifold

Dan Rosnet has posted the contact information for those at General Motors that he spoke to about his problem.  Please see Mr. Rosnet’s post on the “Comments” page for the information if you would like to Contact GM.

Roofs Shouldn’t Look Like This!

Anyone who has lived in a home with a shingled roof knows that at some point in time, the roof will have to be replaced. Whether the home is a manufactured (mobile) home or a permanent structure, all of the elements play a significant role in the wear and tear of the shingles.  When it’s time to select a roofing contractor, be careful! Make sure that you’re dealing with a reputable company.  Ask for references if necessary and check them out.  Don’t ever give anyone any money up front because in all likelihood, you’ll never see them again.  The photos shown below are just two examples of what a newly installed roof should never look like.  The first photo shows how wavy a roof can appear if there is a problem with the roof decking.  The decking must be repaired or replaced BEFORE the felt and shingles are nailed down.  The second photo shows caulking that was applied to valleys alongside a gable because someone recognized a problem, usually water leakage.  Using caulking on a newly installed roof is never acceptable.  If the roofers didn’t install the valley shingles correctly the first time, the roofer should have to redo the work again.  However, getting the roofing contractor to tear off the shingles and then reinstall new ones might be easier said than done.  It is possible that a roofer would rather apply a caulking or some type of mastic beneath the shingle rather than re-shingle the area.  If this seems like an acceptable solution, again, be careful.  If a leak occurs in the future, getting the roofer to fix it under warranty will be next to impossible.  One way to test a new roof is to spray water on the roof with a garden hose then check the attic for signs of water leakage.  Don’t wait until it rains.  The sooner a leak is detected, the easier it will be to hold the roofer responsible if an adversarial situation arises.

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Note wavy Roof

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Caulking used on valleys

Cut Those Tree Limbs!!!

I just completed an assignment where contact between a power line and a tree limb caused damage to several home appliances. We all know that power lines are sometimes routed through tree branches between the transformer and the weatherhead on a residential or commercial building roof.  It’s also no secret that electricity can travel through a tree.  In this particular case, contact with the limb came about as a result of rubbing so that when the wire insulation had worn off and the conductor was exposed, a short circuit to ground was created.  When this happens, current is going to go in all directions.  It is possible to energize the neutral side of a building’s electrical system so that current is fed into an appliance in the wrong way which causes damage.  Although electric utilities sometimes take on the responsibility for pruning tress, home and building owners should be proactive in helping to maintain the safety and reliability of power distribution.  As this article is being written, the northeast is being “slammed” with a huge winter snow storm.  It’s no stretch of the imagination to conceive of the number of power lines that will come down as result of broken tree limbs.  But, keeping tree limbs pruned and off power lines can mean the difference between staying warm and waiting several hours if not days for utility crews to make repairs.  Remember, unless you are in an extremely isolated area, the transformer that feeds you home or business, also feeds your neighbor’s homes and businesses.

A Word About Fraud…

Every once in awhile a case comes along that has a little bit more intrigue than the run-of-the mill investigation. A few years ago, we were asked to look into why a man was injured while working on a scissor lift that had apparently gotten away from him. In order to understand what happened, it is important that one realizes that a scissor lift can be raised and lowered while in place or moved forward and backward. The controls for this particular lift were located on the side of the platform railing and were raised and lowered as the platform was raised and lowered. This particular lift had been rented from an equipment rental company by a construction company and as stated earlier, was in use at the time of the accident. Specifically, a construction employee was standing on the platform in a raised position while attempting to move the lift to his left. Upon releasing the control to stop the machine, the machine did not respond and eventually crashed into a forklift. As a result of this incident, the rental company, by its contractual agreement with the construction company, was expecting to be indemnified because the employee had filed suit against the rental company for his injuries.

After receiving this assignment, a trip was made to the rental company’s location in order to conduct an examination of the machine. At first, no restrictions had been placed on the examination. Upon arrival, it was learned from rental company representatives that the lift could not be operated, disassembled, or tested in any way. The examination was to be limited to taking photographs and making notes of observations. One of the photographs that was taken is shown below. The photograph shows the condition of the control panel as it was found during the first examination. Note the dirty appearance and the type of joystick used.

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Approximately four months later, a joint examination was organized wherein various parties that had used or worked on the machine gathered to witness the testing and examination of the lift. The examination was begun with allowing all of the parties to photograph the machine. Although the machine had been photographed four months previous, the lift was again photographed. When the photographs were later reviewed and compared with the photographs taken at the first examination, it was then discovered that the control in place during the second examination was different form the control initially found on the machine. The appearance of the control shown below is the control that was on the lift during the second examination. Clearly, this control is different from the one shown in the photograph above. It then became obvious that not only had the control been replaced but, the only reason to replace the control was to hide the problem in the first control that most likely caused the accident. Once the lawyers were made aware of the switch, the claim for indemnification by the rental company soon disappeared. Presumably, the lawsuit filed by the employee against the rental company was settled.

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Although fraud exists, even in civil cases, it is fairly hard to prove. This aforementioned case was more the exception than the rule. Over the past 30 years, I have had several cases where I thought that something was missing or there was more to the situation than “meets the eye”. In all cases, at the end of the day, it’s what you can prove not what you can feel. If you can develop proof for what you can feel, then great! If not, then all you do is conclude based on your evidence. If you are going to commit fraud, be prepared to cover even the smallest detail. As illustrated above, no one thought that the control replacement would be noticed, but it was!

 

Compact Florescent Lights

DSC04442.JPGCompact florescent lights or CFLs as they are known are supposed to be an energy efficient alternative to incandescent light bulbs. CFLs have been on the market for a few years now and have slowly been gaining acceptance by the general public. But, (and there is a “but”) recently, CFLs have been posing a problem. The problem is that some CFLs have a tendency to explode and cause a fire. The cause of the explosion is a faulty ballast. When the ballast fails, the typical failure mode is one where the ballast emits a small amount of smoke and a burned smell, then fails completely without a fire incident. Also, please be aware that these bulbs are made with mercury. If you must handle a bulb that has exploded, use gloves to protect your hands and wash your hands afterward. The CFL shown above is just one instance where the bulb exploded, ignited the lamp shade and caused damage to an antique stereo cabinet. The damage to the home was minimal although if the fire had not been extinguished quickly, the loss could have been more severe. There currently is no recall for bulbs manufactured by General Electric with the number FLE23HT3/2/10E/SW. It should also be noted that General Electric has elected to stop manufacturing CFL bulbs as of December 31, 2016. For CFLs manufactured by other companies, consumers should check with the company directly to find out if there are any recalls for the bulb(s) they have.  For the time being, LED bulbs seem to be a safer alternative to CFL bulbs.

 

 

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