Fire Recovery: Simple Triage and Rapid Treatment

For disaster recovery workshops, we’re following the lead of emergency responders by promoting START: simple triage and rapid treatment. However, while those professionals are focusing on human victims, our participants deal only with the much less urgent and less significant needs of artifacts.

Triagetag2Upon relocating the artifacts to a safe work area (using as limited and safe handling procedures as possible), the next step in recovering artifacts from a fire is triage. For our last workshop, we modified emergency responders’ START tags for artifacts.

  • Green: Undamaged artifacts have usually been housed securely enough to protect them from soot. After careful inspection, these can be rehoused in clean containers for a return to storage with no treatment necessary.
  • Yellow: these objects require simple treatment techniques before they can be packed up for long-term storage.

Conservators recommend a strict progressive cleaning procedure that begins with vacuuming and moves to soot sponging and then to wet-cleaning, if necessary and safe for the material. These techniques enacted quickly after the fire will guarantee the highest degree of soot removal for most objects.

  1. Air dry if necessary. Find a shady place if outside or use electric fans to promote air flow inside.
  2. Vacuum: conservators recommend vacuuming in place before relocating the object, but after a fire it is more likely that the contents of a burned structure will be removed before artifact recovery can begin. Brushes should not be used in the soot vacuuming process. If a nylon screen or old panty hose is available, it can be used to cover the nozzle only and should not be pressed against the object. If not, place a thumb on the edge of the nozzle as a bumper to space it a short distance from the object.
  3. Soot sponge: remember to use a dabbing motion, rather than rubbing, which will may grind the tiny soot particles into the object.
  4. Wet cleaning:
  • Ethanol wipe/ dab for metals, also useful on glass and high-fired ceramics
  • Squirt bottle rinse with weak detergent solution (select one with low levels of dyes and perfumes such as Palmolive free and clear.)
  • Blot with damp cotton swabs or rags
  • Avoid immersion but this may be necessary as a last resort

In addition to Heritage Preservation’s brief video, click here for the best professional guidelines we’ve found so far that are specific to soot and ash.

  • Red: objects may be packed for relocation to a conservation studio right away, or they may go through the simple treatment techniques outlined above before going into this category.
  • Black: objects that seem too damaged to recover or not enough of an institutional priority to warrant conservation costs go into the “morgue”—a holding area to await the formal deaccession process before disposal.

We’re working though this START system for artifacts in workshops and so far it’s been a useful approach. We plan to train our Cultural Resources Emergency Response Team (CREST) in its use for future actual disaster recoveries and will practice it again at our next fire recovery workshop in Greensboro.

 

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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 July 22, 2014, in cleaning, collections care, Connecting to Collections, conservation, CREST, disaster preparedness, fire, workshops and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Can we change my email address??

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