Pros & Cons of Fire Recovery Workshops

This week our C2C staff is in Louisville Kentucky for the AASLH conference.  We’ll be discussing one of the big pushes of the CREST grant project—producing fire recovery workshops across the state. We hope to encourage those involved in coordinating professional development workshops in other states to consider whether hands-on fire recovery workshops would be useful to the groups they serve. This type of workshop is fairly unique in that we have partnered with a different fire station or training center to stage a controlled burn of a mock museum that we set up for each one. We’ve done 6 of these and covered the state fairly well geographically. They have all been different in terms of levels of damage to materials and the firefighting staff and procedures involved in each controlled burn. We’ve learned many lessons about working with the first responders, as well as the way materials react to fire, and recovery methods. We want to guide others from around the country to R&D—rip off and duplicate—what we’ve accomplished here in NC.

We’ll be sharing with those who join us the handouts we’ve developed for our participants as well as a supply list for the workshop and pointers for setting up the controlled burn. We’ve also identified some pros and cons for producing this type of workshop to help generate discussion for each attendee (and our blog readers) about whether this would be a viable training in their own areas.

  • Pro: Fire recovery workshops have been a useful hook into increasing disaster preparedness. The off-site, hands-on element is a more exciting topic than disaster planning and appeals to a wider range of participants. These workshops have also functioned as recruiting tools for both regional and statewide response teams here in NC.
  • poolNoodleMount2Con: They’re a lot of work! Controlled burns require regular rounds of accumulating and storing “expendifacts.” We don’t just stockpile junk but rather try to amass a range of materials (and proportions of them) found in typical historical museum collections. Multiples of the same thing are especially useful to test the protective qualities of various storage materials. Tagging and creating storage mounts, as well as taking photos of each object for an inventory, are labor intensive processes. In the final stages of preparation, the heavy lifting kicks in with loading, unloading, and reloading the cargo van.
  • Pro: The workshops have built bridges to emergency responders. By meeting the firefighter in charge of the controlled burn during the workshop, each participant has a contact in their regions. The firefighters we worked with first taught us about pre-plans and we’ve been able to spread the word about this key preparedness step as we travel around the state. Additionally, the triage tags we use for artifact recovery are modeled after FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team triage tags for human victims. By using a similar system, we’ve allowed the firefighters to gain a quick understanding of our goals.
  • Con: Preparations for these workshops requires a great deal of staff time. You need months (and quite a bit of storage space) to accumulate the stuff you’ll burn. If an inventory is part of the workshop (and it has been for ours), the documentation takes roughly a week of full-time work. Another week is necessary for creating storage mounts, packing boxes, loading, and set-up.
  • Pro: These workshops have been a useful deaccessioning outlet for institutions around the state (and even beyond, in one case). 7 museums/ libraries have given us items to burn that could not be sold at auction.
  • TextilesPostburnCon: The controlled burns require regular buying and wasting of supplies. In addition to buying expendifacts from thrift stores and yard sales, storage supplies get used up regularly. Metal shelving has been the toughest supply to replenish cheaply. Tyvek and muslin garment covers and padded hangers need to be re-created before each burn.
  • Pro: Ultimately, these workshops have been effective as active learning events. Participants have worked with key concepts such as the Incident Command System, practiced triage and fire recovery steps for a variety of materials, and witnessed the reactions of various storage materials to fire.

Do you think it would be worth trying one of these workshops in your own area? Please get in touch, if you’d like more information. We’re happy to share!

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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 September 16, 2015, in CREST, disaster recovery, fire, workshops and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great post! Having gone through a fire event at our museum, these type of workshops offer invaluable training to staff. The pros far outweigh the cons. Keep up the great work!

  2. Well said! I agree that the pros far outweigh the cons. However, I am aware that through the grant funding we have staff dedicated to making these workshops happen. But if a state is purposeful in their planning to include as many participants as possible, it is well worth the efforts and costs. The added feature of the stabilization and care of artifacts immediately after a disaster is an added bonus. As one participant commented, “It is like getting a two-for-one workshop: collections care AND disaster training.” Please contact us if you would like our insights or assistance. Lyn Triplett

  3. Thanks, Scott! There’s some growing interest in doing one of these for SEMC in Charlotte next fall. Our High Point Museum friends may be organizing…If you have any local fire training center contacts, that could help jump start their efforts.

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