Salvage and Overhaul

The process of salvage and overhaul after a fire is often misunderstood and overlooked in terms of importance. This is despite the fact that it plays a huge role in the ability of an affected home or business-owner to recover from incidents like fires and explosions. It also is a major factor in the ability of the fire investigator to determine the fire's cause and origin.

In the early days of professional fire service in the United states, insurance companies placed enough value on employing correct damage control practices that they would sometimes sponsor "salvage companies" of personnel trained and equipped to respond in specialized fire apparatus. Those practices became the basis for many of the techniques used today to prevent further damage once the fire is brought under control.

Salvage Corps Vehicle

Salvage tasks can include transferring major pieces of furniture or stock to a safer venue. This often means moving items to a part of the structure that was undamaged or suffered minimal untoward effects. Whether moved or kept in place, fire departments will employ salvage covers, or tarps, to place over the items to minimize damage from water and debris. If ventilation holes have been made in the roof during firefighting, or doors and windows broken, similar equipment will be employed to keep out the weather until the insurance company can get a board-up company on-site.


The overhaul part of the equation is often performed simultaneously with salvage. It is important that firefighters do a thorough examination of all parts of the structure that have experienced fire damage, to prevent any rekindling that could result in another fire at the building. This can involve cutting away and removing drywall and wood framing until unburned materials are reached. (One piece of technology that has greatly aided this practice and helped limit unnecessary damage is the thermal imaging camera. Worthington firefighters use these after a fire to identify and target hot spots without having to remove so many pieces of the building.) Overhaul also involves removal of fire-damaged furniture and materials to the outside so the threat of rekindling is eliminated without the need for additional water application inside.

Finally, while working through the process of salvage and overhaul, fire officers will work in coordination with investigation personnel, particularly in instances where there has been human injury or death, to document and uncover physical clues that can aid in the determination of the fire's initial means of ignition.