Family Business: Catastrophe Services, Inc.

By Natasha Chilingerian
– Greater Columbia Business Monthly, May 2010

It’s the kind of incident no one wants to think will happen to them, but is entirely possible – a fire, tornado, hurricane or flood damages your residence or business, leaving it in need of costly, time-consuming repairs. For 30 years, the McCutcheon family has provided happy endings to such negative scenarios with their Columbia-based business, Catastrophe Services, Inc. (CSI), which offers full-service restoration for damaged structures all over the state.

CSI’s founders, Fred J. McCutcheon Sr. and Joan McCutcheon, are the principal owners of the business, but their sons, Vice President Sean McCutcheon, Account Manager Scott McCutcheon and Vice President of Business Development Fred McCutcheon Jr. run its day-to-day operations. The brothers’ cousin, Kenneth May, serves as the business’ senior account manager. May, the McCutcheons and their team of technicians, managers and project managers offer an array of restoration services including water extraction; soot, smoke and mold removal; deodorization; demolition and pressure washing. The services are available 24/7 following emergencies, and the business also organizes educational sessions on structural restoration topics for employees, insurance professionals and the general public.

“We’re a full service restoration company,” Sean said. “We’re a general contractor that does structural repairs, and on top of that, we handle contents restoration. For example, we’ll move the pictures from the walls and the furniture here to clean and deodorize. It’s a one stop shop company.”

The company’s history dates back to 1980 when the elder Fred and Joan, who were living in New York at the time, purchased the franchise rights to a fire damage restoration company called Firedex. They opened one location in Columbia and helped a friend open one in Greenville, both of which were named Southern Appeal. In 1989, the company’s name changed to Catastrophe Services, Inc., and the rest of the family came on board to dedicate their careers to the business.

20 years ago, CSI had six employees, a 30 by 30 foot facility and an office; today, it functions out of a 12,000 square foot Columbia facility, employs approximately 30 workers and has a second location in Charleston, which opened up about five years ago. The company’s biggest costs include the equipment and materials utilized on restoration jobs, employee salaries, fuel and general business expenses such as taxes and insurance.

Sean and the younger Fred say the majority of their business stems from the relationships they’ve built with insurance companies and insurance adjusters. They’ve shied away from paid advertising, mostly because the services offered by CSI are ones that customers wouldn’t think to seek out until they’ve been faced with a disaster.

“We don’t plaster our name on a billboard, we build business through contacts and relationships,” Sean said. “People aren’t going to know about us until they’ve had a bad day.” Adds Fred, “Most common people have never heard of us because they want to think that a disaster won’t happen to them.”

CSI owners and staffers work with insurance industry professionals quite often in addition to property owners, as the majority of recovery work costs are filed as claims with insurance companies. However, commercial clients – for example, a property management company dealing with fire damage at one of its office buildings – may pay the company directly.

“The insurance company is usually the one that pays the bill,” Fred said. “But the owner of the property is the customer.”

A new restoration service job at CSI starts with a phone call, usually from a property manager, property owner or insurance company worker, notifying CSI of the structure’s damage. If the situation is an emergency, CSI workers travel to the structure and get to work as soon as possible, even in the middle of the night. “We’d like to believe that on a normal business day, we can be there within one hour of the call,” Fred said. “If it’s late at night, we’ll try to be there in a couple of hours.”

Once workers arrive on the scene of an emergency restoration service job, they’ll assess the damages and take immediate steps to salvage the property, which may include boarding windows, covering roofs with tarp, extracting water, drying structures, putting up fences and setting up emergency heating and electricity. Beyond the initial response to an emergency, CSI provides mold remediation, in which fully suited technicians come in to treat the structure’s affected areas and keep the mold from spreading. They also do reconstruction work on damaged structures, such as carpentry and painting, and if a structure is unsalvageable, demolition services are available. The company also installs products that can make a restored building complete, such as carpeting, tile, vinyl and cabinets.

Sean and Fred say the costs of their services are in line with the industry’s parameters, but that they keep costs low by arriving to structures quickly and therefore keeping damages to a minimum. “We’re looking to provide a quality service at a fair price,” Sean said.

Since CSI provides necessary restoration services following catastrophes that can happen at any time, a down economy has not affected its business, Sean and Fred say. Their business comes as a result of everyday incidents such as kitchen fires in addition to natural disasters.

“Weather-related issues are outside of our regular, day-to-day work,” Sean said. “With a disaster, we suddenly enter a situation where everyone has a problem, and we have to go to our catastrophe plan. Logistically, we have to coordinate activities like putting tarp on roofs and removing trees.”

Restoration work following water damage has been especially popular for the business lately, the brothers say, due to a high number of broken and leaky pipes. “We’ve almost seen an explosion in water damage,” Fred said. “We’ve seen a big growth in that, while fire damage has remained constant. A fire is reported more often because it’s more dramatic, but there’s more damage out there from water.”

Another unique element of CSI is its continuing education program, which includes seminars, classes and lunches that are held all over the state. Insurance industry professionals comprise the majority of educational session attendees, and topics include mold awareness and mitigating claims dollars for fire and water damage restoration. Sean and Fred say the program also serves as a promotional tool for their business.

“If an insurance company is planning a meeting, we’ll open our facility up to them, and we’ll do the same thing for a property management company,” Sean said. In their 20-plus years in business, Sean and Fred say their biggest challenges have included collecting payments from third parties during the recession and the general stresses that burden every business owner. Changes in the industry have presented challenges as well – they say the public has raised the bar on their expectations of restoration work.

“Customer service expectations have changed, and the expertise on how to restore structures has changed among the public,” Sean said. “There’s more awareness out there of what to look for.” Other industry changes have only helped CSI, such as new technology that’s allowed workers to complete restoration work faster and more effectively. For example, on water damage restoration jobs, CSI workers can now use penetrating moisture meters on carpets to determine the level of water damage.

CSI competes against local tradesmen and other restoration company franchises, but Sean and Fred say their educational program, experience, credentials and the fact that they’re a full-service company helps them stand out in the crowd. All four of CSI’s executive personnel (the younger Fred, Sean, Scott and May) are Indoor Air Quality Association Certified Mold Remediators (CMRs), Sean and May have been named Certified Restorers by the National Institute of Disaster Restoration, Sean and Scott are Water Loss Institute Water Loss Specialists and Scott is certified in Advanced Structural Drying.

Aside from building a successful business from the ground up, Sean and Fred say they’re proud of the positive outcomes that have resulted from their restoration work, such as the happiness customers experience when they see their once damaged properties looking as good as new.

“There are some people who think their property can never be fixed, or that they’ll never get rid of an odor,” Fred said. “So seeing the before and after is impressive.” Fred adds that working as a family has been nothing but a good experience for everyone involved.

“We work together well,” he said. “We all have a niche, and it all intersects together. The business has also allowed us to fulfill our parents’ dream of keeping the family together.” What’s next for the family-run, post-disaster restoration business? Sean and Fred say they hope to increase their volume of business in the commercial arena and continue to build the CSI brand. They’re anticipating more claims as South Carolina’s population increases, and while no one welcomes a natural disaster, the CSI team expects future weather-related incidents to keep them busy. “We’re due for a massive earthquake,” Fred said. Sean adds that the end goal for CSI is to be number one in the state.

“We want to be the premier restoration company in the state of South Carolina,” he said.

Live 5 News Charleston – Dirty Jobs Charleston…Fire Restoration

By Bob Behanian
Posted: May 18, 2009 09:35 AM – Updated: May 18, 2009 10:06 AM

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) – On this weeks edition of Charleston Dirtiest Jobs I tackle fire restoration. From the outside the house we’ll be working on looks totally normal but on the inside it’s a completely different story.

“This was house fire that occurred in the kitchen. It was an electrical fire. We have begun the process of cleaning the materials we believe will be saved,” said CSI’s Fred McCutcheon Jr.

“Start at wall, start at a corner. Work your way to another corner and finish up at the wall. Go ahead and grab a rag. Dose it down pretty good.”

It took plenty of elbow grease to get the smoke off the paint. And when that wasn’t enough-a spray did the job. The walls were done the ceiling wasn’t as easy. After some instruction I was back on track. My sponge started to cooperate and the ceiling is now smoke free. But the damage from the fire has no limits.

“You’ve got blown insulation in the attic. So you can imagine now having to pick it all up, bag it and get it out of here.”

Why imagine it when you can do it for real. This job needed some special preparations.

“If you get any insulation on you any material. All you have to do is take the suit off and you stay well protected.”

Suited up from head to toe I began to collect insulation from the attic.

“This insulation needs to be replaced with odor issues because of the smoke. And it also retains water.”

Restoring a house after a fire takes time, effort and money. But 4 months from now a family will return to a home they almost lost.

Mold at Fairfield Primary School

By Heather Brown
– (Winnsboro) Sept. 20, 2004

Five-weeks-ago, eight classrooms inside Fairfield Primary School had mold on the carpet and on books. The rooms have been cleaned and tested since then.

Daniel Cook still doesn’t want his son back in the classroom until a public health agency has checked it out, “That’s their job. They worry about the restaurants, grocery stores to take care of the public. Public health is their job, what’s more public than our children.”

Sean McCutcheon has worked in mold remediation for fifteen years. He says there just aren’t any federal or state guidelines in South Carolina that regulate mold, “It could be dangerous in high enough levels.” He says it’s about time standards and licensing were put into place, “It would give something to provide us a goal to reach.”

No one can agree on the goals. Sean says, for example, how much mold makes a child sick, “One company says this works for me and one company could say this doesn’t work for me? It could be yes, there’s nothing out there that puts it at a specific number.”

Sean says standards will likely take time and that mold has become a hot issue in the past five years. It’s time Daniel says he doesn’t have. He points to the Governor’s Mansion as an example, “If it’s not good enough for the governor to live in an area with mold. Why are children being sent to a school with that problem?”

After three months, First Lady Jenny Sanford is looking forward to moving back into the Governor’s Mansion, “It’s been a long, long road.”

One that started, she says, back in August of last year when her family came home from a vacation to find their home infected with a fungus, “All of our clothes upstairs were covered with mold. Every tie of my husband’s had to wiped down, every shoe, every suit had mold on it.”

She says the State Budget and Control Board, which owns the house, responded with a short-term solution which was to bring down the humidity levels. That removed the visible mold, “In the meantime, I kept telling them, we should investigate this. They said no.”

Frustrated, she hired her own engineer who told her in March there was a problem. She says the state ignored his report as she and her staff became sicker, “We had clogged sinuses, we had a rash, we had hives. I always had a rash on my stomach whenever I was in this house.”

The mold started to reappear two months later, “That’s when we knew they knew they had a problem and started testing.”

Mrs. Sanford says they tested twice, but didn’t tell her the results of the second test right away, “They neglected to inform me. In the meantime, my kids were getting sicker.”

That day, she says she had enough and moved her family to their home in Sullivan’s Island. Work on the air conditioning system started not long after. In retrospect, Mrs. Sanford says she wished she had been tougher with the state earlier, “Here we were in the Governor’s Mansion with kids getting sick and staff getting sick and at the end of the day, I wish I had followed my instinct and been a little louder and screamed a little more.”

She now recommends to the many parents who call her about mold to be vigilant, “My advice would be to trust your instinct. If you think your child is getting sick. Do everything you can. If that means camp out on the local school board, that’s what you need to do.”

Her family is scheduled to move back in Thursday.

Call 758-1271 if you have a story idea or a problem you want us to look into or you can email the information.

Wet weather spurs mold growth in homes

By Jennifer Miskewicz
– (Columbia) June 30, 2004

Fred McCutcheon was suiting up for a major project. His company was removing mold from a Richland County house, “This particular issue here happened from the washing machine hose.”

It sprung a leak, “It’s a rental property. Someone wasn’t home, didn’t check on it, they came in a week later and saw water everywhere.”

The water led to mold from the laundry room to the living room. Bad carpets had to be removed. McCutcheon says a machine is cleaning the air, “If you’ve got a whole room where you just see visible mold, it’s always good to find out what you’ve got. If you’re in a small affected area, long term, it can cause your allergies at the very least to get upset, to more chronic issues. As far as killing you, they haven’t proven that yet.”

Some mold can be dangerous, so people who remove it wear protective suits and even a full respiratory mask. To prevent mold in your home, clean your heating and air ducts, check places water can build up, like behind the refrigerator, and even the kitchen sink.

McCutcheon says mold can do physical damage to your home as well, “Mold can destroy your home, eat sheetrock. You’ll have real havoc on your hands.”

The home he was working on will have some of the sheetrock removed. The mold is being tested to see if it’s hazardous. The whole process must be complete before the house gets a clean bill of health.

Northeast mold removal, restoration business cleans up

By Maurice Thomas
– Staff Writer, The State Newspaper

The CSI in Northeast Richland County isn’t a crime investigation unit, but it does solve problems. Catastrophe Services, Inc., a family-owned business, specializes in restoring homes and businesses from disasters such as fire, floods and mold. CSI Inc. was founded by Fred McCutcheon Sr. and his wife, Joan, after Hurricane Hugo hit the area in 1989. Their three sons, Sean, Scott and Fred Jr., and a cousin, Kenny May, work in the business. They each have certifications as contractors or in other areas.

“My father believes greatly in proper credentials,” said Fred McCutcheon Jr., vice president of business development and a Certified Mold Remediator himself.

Joan McCutcheon and oldest son, Sean, are both Certified Restorers and Water Loss Specialists. Middle son Scott is a Water Loss Specialist, Certified Restorer and Certified Mold Remediator. Kenny May is Certified Mold Remediator and Certified Restorer.

CSI was recently awarded the Healthy Home Award by the National Indoor Air Environmental Consultants, an organization that studies environments. Art Martin of Arthur V. Martin Associates, a consulting company in Waynesville, N.C., presented the award to the business last week. “This is the first award in South Carolina,” said Martin, a member of the national board.

In the Midlands, much of the mold talk has centered around the Lexington County Courthouse and artificial stucco homes. People either get very scared about mold or take it seriously enough, said Scott McCutcheon. People don’t have to live in plastic bubbles, but they should pay attention to their homes, he said.

Mold needs moisture and an organic food source, like wood or the paper on sheet rock, to grow, he said. Mold will start growing 72 hours after water damage, Scott McCutcheon said. A cup of water on the floor isn’t likely to cause mold, but if there is a leaky pipe under a sink, there may be mold growing, he said.

Mold would get moisture from the pipe and food from the cabinet’s particle board, he said. Home owners can help prevent mold by taking out one of the necessities, such as moisture.

Martin said that people can help prevent mold growing in their homes by using air conditioning in the summer months to keep humidity below 60 percent. In the winter, humidity is usually lower than naturally, Martin said. People should also realize that mold particles are always in the air—outside and even inside a home, Martin said.

People should also realize that mold particles are always in the air—outside and even inside a home, Martin said. “Mold was around before people,” he said. The best anyone can do is try to keep it from growing. Mold removal technology has progressed from the days of cutting a patch for the molded area or painting over it with a stain-blocker like Kilz, said Scott McCutcheon.

CSI Works with independent environmental hygienists like Martin when removing mold. One of the first steps is identifying the variety of mold, through testing. Using the test results, the hygienist writes a step-by-step report on how to clean the area. It takes a few days to get initial test results back. It could take about two weeks to get extensive tests results to know if a particular mold produces a toxin, Martin said.

Once the area has been cleaned, the environmental hygienist returns and tests again to make sure the mold has been brought within acceptable levels. There are no set standards for what mold levels and that is where the report from a hygienist is most helpful, Scott McCutcheon said.

“The final goal is a clean, healthy building,” he said.

Clean starts at IGA

By Carly Phillips
– South Carolina Bureau

Derik Newton, of Catastrophe Services, Inc. in Columbia, loads items to salvage from the shelves of the IGA grocery store in Johnson, SC, which was severely damaged by a fire the night of January 29.

Johnston, SC – Monday was the 13th day without power inside the charred IGA grocery store, and the first day workers entered to excavate perishables.

The stench inside the Lee Street store was stomach-wrenching near the meat and the milk.

“If this was August it would be really smelling in here,” said Sean McCutcheon, the vice president of Catastrophe Services Inc., the Columbia company hired to get the food out of the building.

Johnston’s only large-scale grocery store burned the night of Jan. 29 after an electrical problem sparked a fire between the building’s roof and ceiling, officials said. It caused no less than $750,000.00 in damage. Manager Harold Sample said.

The fire began on the eighth aisle, where the paper goods were kept. “That didn’t help and Johnston residents now only have access to a store in Edgefield” Mr. Sample said.

The 6-year-old store is owned by W. Lee Flowers & Co. of Lake City, S.C. Mr. Sample said there has been talk of the company’s using the incident as an opportunity to expand the store and add a deli and a bakery.

Mr. McCutcheon said nothing in the store is salvageable. “This had to be a tremendous fire”.

The store’s 12 full-time employees are being offered the chance to work temporarily at other IGA locations, Mr. Sample said.

However, the closest store is in Gilbert, S.C., about an hour from Johnston, The other locations offered to employees are in Gaston, S.C., Chester, S.C.; and Louisville, G.A., all between one and 2 ½ hours away.

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