Protecting Your Property and Guests from Wildfire Smoke

    By Helen Gasparyan, Environmental Health and Safety Specialist, Aeroscopic Environmental

    Fire advisories are worrisome for any hotel, as smoke and flames threaten to damage your property and deter your visitors. Fortunately, there are some methods that can help reduce smoke odor and particulate matter to create a healthy environment.

    Here are some tips on how to use your property’s HVAC units to your advantage.

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    Keep Bathroom Fans and Window Units Turned Off. Window boxes and bathroom fans usually pull outside air indoors, so they should be shut off during a fire advisory.

    Turn on Your Air Conditioning.  If the filtration units have been properly maintained, they can protect the staff and guests against poor air quality. Before a fire advisory is put in effect, a designated person must be familiar with the HVAC system and know where to shut off or block the fresh air intakes using dampers. During fires, particulate matter is released into the air. Since particulate matter is composed of fine particles and liquids, it can easily be inhaled.

    The most common categories of particulate matter are known as PM10 and PM2.5.  PM10 is inhalable, coarse particulate matter and PM2.5 is inhalable, fine particulate matter. PM2.5 is a more serious health concern because the particles are small enough to travel deep into our lungs and, potentially, the circulatory system.  If a hotel’s fresh intake is drawing in wildfire air, it can create an extremely unhealthy environment and such adverse effects as asthma, cardiovascular failure, and lung disease.

    Change the Air Filters.  All windows and doors should be kept closed as much as possible to avoid allowing in the contaminated air. While this will help reduce the fine particles from entering, it still does not mean ideal air conditions. Fine particles can enter the hotel from roof vents or small gaps in the windows and doors. Replacing the filters will help create a healthy air quality level and reduce particulate matter in the air. An air purifier with a HEPA filter may also help, if it has been installed as a part of regular procedure beforehand. Some more advanced units even have air quality ratings that monitor indoor air quality and compare it to the outdoor air quality.

    Hire a professional. Once a fire advisory has been lifted, the next steps are critical. The hotel’s exterior and interior should be inspected. It is always best to hire a professional to do the inspection because not all smoke damage is visible to the naked eye. Following the inspection, there will be a mitigation report created, which will include all necessary cleanup and/or repairs.  The cleanup process may involve many steps such as, removal of loose combustible particles, using high velocity blowers, air scrubbers, and other dry removal techniques. Once all the mitigation steps have been completed, a final clearance test should be conducted to determine the efficiency of the mitigation. 

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