THE FIRE AT THE ROYAL SASKATCHEWAN MUSEUM, PART 2: REMOVAL OF SOOT FROM ARTIFACTS AND RECOVERY OF THE BUILDING
SARAH SPAFFORD-RICCI, & FIONA GRAHAM
4 4. CONCLUSIONS
In general, soot removal from a museum building and its furnishings will be required following a fire, furnace puff-back, or other soot-producing disaster, since the quantity of soot produced is very large and the particles will spread quickly throughout a museum before suppression systems are activated. Even if a museum collection is not left on-site during postfire refurbishment, the vapors from strong cleaners and sealants may remain for some time. Although the building cleanup at the RSM proceeded well, the museum staff were not adequately prepared for the fast-paced building restoration activities, and conservators were forced to delay and interrupt collection and exhibit recovery to accommodate building cleaning and restoration. During disaster planning, conservators should choose a fire restoration company, become acquainted with basic building cleaning and restoration processes, and write general specifications in the event of a fire cleanup.
In a fire recovery, conservators will be forced to combine conservation technique with practical and rapid methods of cleaning. The RSM conservators found the process of soot removal to be very different from the removal of dust and dirt of typical conservation cleaning treatments. A strict progressive cleaning sequence, involving the predominant use of vacuuming, dry-surface-cleaning, and then the careful use of wet-cleaning, is necessary for effective soot removal. Time is an important element in this process. Although the Canadian Conservation Institute analysis of soot at the RSM had indicated that the soot would probably not pose a threat to the objects if it remained dry, practical results during the recovery definitely indicated that the soot became more difficult to remove over time.
In retrospect, while the technical aspects relating to the organization and implementation of a fire recovery were manageable tasks, their success was dependent on an environment created by the decisions and priorities established during the initial response to the disaster. If cleaning of a museum collection is not established as a first priority through a prior planning process, it is unlikely that all of the requirements for conservation recovery will be provided for during the initial chaotic stages following a disaster. If conservators are prevented from taking quick action or are not provided with adequate resources for soot removal, the success of the technical plans for collection recovery after a fire will be limited. The postdisaster environment is complex, and conservators will be hard pressed to implement conservation strategies in an ideal manner. The preparation of a broad-based disaster plan that creates a favorable environment for collection recovery—and provides for adequate financial and human resources for this recovery—will improve the outcome of conservation efforts in times of crisis.
The authors would like to acknowledge the numerous staff, temporary staff, and volunteers who worked tirelessly to rehabilitate the museum after the fire and the cooperative efforts of the property management corporation, insurance adjuster, construction manager, and trades who restored the museum building.