Banking & Finance and Government

Don’t get burned by fires

Firm’s investigations team helps small businesses prevent accidents to avoid bankruptcy.

October 27, 2017
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Most people think of Rehmann primarily as an accounting firm. But one of its three divisions handles putting out all kinds of fires.

Rehmann Corporate Investigative Services (CIS), available statewide as well as in Indiana and Ohio, is a division that offers IT and digital forensics, fraud and forensic accounting, background investigations and more.

Tucked within that list of services is something called fire investigations. Kevin Pike, based out of Rehmann’s Saginaw office, travels to West Michigan and all over the state in his role as manager of fire investigations and senior fire investigator.

He said his fire investigations team can cover a business from several angles. On the prevention side, the team helps put a plan in place for reducing fire hazards, protecting employees, protecting the company’s data and physical assets, and ensuring up-to-date insurance coverage.

On the recovery side — because even the most vigilant companies can have an unexpected fire — Rehmann CIS conducts thorough origin and cause investigations — including looking into product failures, recalls and arson — to speed up the process so insurance companies can process and pay out claims faster.

He said this is especially helpful for small businesses, which typically have a harder time recovering from catastrophic events. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 40 percent of small businesses fail after a disaster — fire or otherwise.

A major building block of any good prevention plan is making sure a business insurance policy grows with the business, he said.

“If a business starts as a $100,000-a-year business, and it opts in to a $100,000 policy to cover their business, and the company then grows up to 30 employees and say it’s a $1-million company when the fire hits, they’re only going to get what they’re covered for,” Pike said. “It’s really important to make sure they look at their coverage on a regular basis.”

Another big-ticket item on the prevention checklist is data backups, he said.

“A lot of people keep their data on servers, and those servers will burn,” he said. “If you walk into an insurance company and say, ‘I do $200,000 in business per year,’ they say, ‘We need you to prove it.’”

Pike, a former firefighter with the Saginaw City Fire Department, said he is a board-certified fire investigator, and along with at least two of his other team members, also is a certified fire inspector, which means he can do walk-throughs of small businesses to identify potential fire hazards and assist organizations with following best practices.

“This would go back to the local fire department or someone like us who has trained investigators who can walk through your business and say, ‘What do I see in a small business that causes fires?’” he said.

“Overuse of extension cords, or in winter, space heaters under desks, overusing power strips, holiday decorations, (failure to use) designated smoking areas, those are things are potential causes that, if you can get under control, will prevent having a fire.”

Pike said his team follows codes from the National Fire Prevention Agency (NFPA), and it is certified through the International Association of Arson Investigators and the National Association of Fire Investigators. When it does walk-throughs, it has a checklist.

“There are steps like missing ceiling tiles, holes in the drywall or if your wire runs are not properly sealed up, where a small fire could travel quickly and make it a big fire,” he said. “Closing doors, compartmentalizing things — that can keep fires from spreading.

“Just like how it’s best to sleep with your bedroom door closed, it’s best to keep ceiling tiles closed to prevent the fire from spreading. Don’t pack stuff around sprinklers and keep your electrical panels free, so fire officials can get in and close off utilities in the event of a fire.”

He said one of the main reasons his firm makes itself available for walk-throughs is because many municipalities no longer offer the service in an era of budget cuts.

“When I worked for the Saginaw City Fire Department, we used to (walk through) gas stations, party stores annually, then places of gatherings, churches, etc., and it was based on a schedule set up by the authority jurisdiction or local fire department.

“Because of the budget issues … a lot of municipalities don’t offer that anymore. It depends on the municipality. I would say go see them and see what they offer.”

He said Rehmann CIS doesn’t have a price list for prevention services for small businesses, but they can provide quotes on a case-by-case basis.

“Our normal rates for investigations are $100 an hour plus our travel, but with this being a service we don’t do regularly, but something we can provide, it would be negotiable based on services asked for,” he said. “Doing a lot of previous small business inspections, most of the time, a walk-through of a small business takes less than an hour.”

Pike said the prevention techniques he mentioned can help businesses avoid folding after a fire.

“Most businesses go out of business by losing out on business,” he said. “If the claim process takes two years, (their customers) are going to move on and find a new business. The more (prevention) you can have ahead of time, the faster the process is to get you back in business.”

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