Fire Recovery Practice

EricRogersOur Fire Recovery Workshop last week at the Buncombe County Public Safety Training Center is now behind us. We enjoyed beautiful, crisp fall weather in the mountains and a wonderful new facility. A shout out to the facility’s Director and fire fighter, Eric Rogers, for accommodating our unusual needs so well! This was our team’s 3rd and largest fire recovery workshop so far and we are planning at least 3 more of this type of training.

burnScene2One lesson we learned this time from our participants is that we need to provided clearer guidelines on how to recover artifacts before sending our group out to “just do it!”. Heritage Preservation offers a good start with this video, which our group was able to review beforehand, but its recommendations are limited to vacuuming and soot sponging. A couple of points to remember about these materials:

  • Vacuum objects in place before moving, if possible.
  • Do not unroll textiles or open books before vacuuming.
  • The vacuum should not be in direct contact with the artifact. Hold the nozzle with a thumb on its edge to prevent touching the artifact.
  • If possible, cover the nozzle with a flexible nylon screen, or even an old piece of pantyhose, to prevent sucking any loose bits of the artifact up, while vacuuming soot particles.
  • Variable suction is a helpful feature in recovery. On our windy day, the shop vac we used tended to pull textile items too much.
  • DavidGoist&SootSpongeOur consulting conservator, David Goist, cautioned our group to examine surface materials carefully before deciding to soot sponge. The pressure of applying a soot sponge might grind soot particles into some matte surfaces.
  • The name “sponge” is somewhat misleading for this material. Although it looks like a sponge, it should not be used to rub. A light dab will trap the soot particles on one face of the rubber cube. Cutting the dirty face off with scissors exposes a clean surface for more trapping.

The soot sponging process can also help identify patterns in soot damage. On Rogers’ suggestion, we placed one object, a carousel horse, in a room on its own, separated from the controlled burn areas. The recovery team found by sponging that soot only collected on top surfaces of the piece.

Although Heritage Preservation’s guidelines urge caution against rinsing anything sooty, Goist instructed the group that objects like glass and high-fired ceramics can usually be rinsed. Silver flatware may also be rinsed and then wiped with a cotton rag dampened with ethanol. Participants had success with these recovery techniques for the “artifacts” they recovered from the dining table setting in the mock museum.

Next week’s post will address the fate of the plastic storage materials we used in the controlled burn exercise.


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on November 12, 2013, in cleaning, collections care, Connecting to Collections, conservation, disaster preparedness, fire, workshops and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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