Reporting on a major fire: from the first alarm to the final claim adjustment
When Lars Imbeck’s phone rings, it usually means big money is at stake. The claims coordinator at Funk handles all types of claims involving major material damage. He comments on his most memorable case for Funk’s corporate blog: the major fire at the premises of construction supplier Schüco in 2019.
At 6:36 p.m., a fire alarm goes off in plant 2 of Schüco’s Borgholzhausen premises in North Rhine-Westphalia. A fire has broken out near the anodisation system. Handles, aluminium parts and fixtures for kitchens, for example, are produced here. The fire brigade arrives at 6:50 p.m. By 7:30 p.m. the smoke is thick and the flames are coming through. The fire is finally under control at 10:30 p.m.
Lars Imbeck: Fires always produce air pollution. What helped in this case was that the extinguishing water from the fire brigade was collected in the retention basin in the basement and disposed of. Drainage to the combined sewer was blocked off early, which prevented environmental contamination. The extinguishing water is special waste that must be disposed of accordingly.
Schüco informs its insurance broker, Funk, about the damage on Monday morning. It quickly becomes clear that this will be a major claim. Funk puts together its own task force and informs the leading insurer, HDI. Together they build a claims team comprising building, operating equipment, stock and business interruption experts, as well as chemists, structural engineers, damage assessors and a restoration company.
Lars Imbeck: We have a large network of experts upon whom we can call. Add to that experts from the insurer’s side and sometimes from the client. In this case there was an advisory board, so everyone involved pulled together and worked as a team. It is not unusual for so many different people to be on site after a fire. Some clients find it confusing, on top of what is already an extraordinary situation for them. That’s why we think it is always important for Funk to be there as the main point of contact, managing the flow of communication.
The team is on site, discussing tasks, processes and action plans. Initial conservative estimates put the material damage and business interruption losses at up to 30 million euros. Two halls are at risk of collapsing and have to be dismantled, a costly and labour-intensive job. Drones are used to uncover the extent of the damage in the halls. The structural stability of a third hall is being investigated.
Lars Imbeck: What’s important is that the restoration company arrives on site quickly and can start the clean-up, so that the business interruption is as short as possible. What’s more, external capacities both in the country and abroad should be determined immediately in such cases, so that the company can continue to deliver to its customers.
Investigators have still not released two of the halls. Schüco is organised extremely well and able to provide construction documentation, fire protection concepts and Emission Control Act permits. Nevertheless, the cause of the damage cannot be conclusively determined. Debris is cleared and disposed of on 8 July, and there are new building plans in place.
‘We felt we were in very good hands during this difficult time. The experts Funk recommended were excellent and worked with us as collaborative partners. We were quickly able to get a handle on the situation and introduce the right steps forward.’
Thomas Schlesing, Head of Group Treasury at Schüco
Lars Imbeck: It is a strategic decision of the company as to whether buildings and machinery destroyed by fire are rebuilt or not, or whether other locations should be used or whether some of the manufacturing is outsourced. Settling early based on estimated values gives the company some flexibility.