Fire Chasers: Helping Or Hurting?

READ: Part 2 of our investigation on fire chasers HERE

Marilyn Crowder says it happened in a flash.

“It was poof, it was everywhere,” she said, while describing the day her home went up in flames.

Crowder says she left her stove unattended. Moments later, a jar of cooking grease fell on the stove, causing the fire. After Crowder called 911, Philadelphia fire crews rushed to her home. They weren’t the only ones to arrive: a group of people commonly known as fire chasers also showed up.

“My son said there was at least five or six cars out there," she told NBC10 Investigative Reporter Harry Hairston. "People just sitting and waiting." 

Once the fire department left, Crowder said two men walked into her house and gave her a sales pitch.

“I didn’t invite them in but they came in," she said. "And they said I can help and I needed help." 

Crowder says she was dazed by the fire and signed contracts with a restoration company and an insurance adjuster without thinking clearly.

“I was devastated. I was vulnerable,” she said.

Two companies came to Crowder’s home: a restoration company that helps rebuild damaged homes, and an insurance adjuster who works with insurance companies on behalf of the customer. The businesses are legal and can help people, but their tactics sometimes disturb firefighters.

“Well, they get in the way,” said Andrew Thomas, President of the Firefighters Union Local 22. “They can prevent medic units from getting in. Or they can prevent medic units from getting out." 

Thomas also told the NBC10 Investigators some firefighters have complained about fire chasers trying to get people to sign contracts while they were in the back of ambulances. Fire chasers can also occasionally get aggressive with each other.

“There might be a pushing, argument, things like that,” Mike O’Leary, owner of Protect Renovations, said.

When Hairston asked if the fights ever get physical, O’Leary responded, “Sometimes. Very, very rare.”

The NBC10 Investigators went to the scene of several fires. O’Leary was the only one who spoke with us. He admits he’s been in a fight with the competition, but says it was something personal that spilled over onto the job.

“It doesn’t look good. It doesn’t look good,” he said.

O’Leary also said, although not intentional, fire chasers can get in the way of firefighters.

"Let's be real-- it happens," he said. "Nobody’s here to act like it's perfect." 

He told the NBC10 Investigators he’s never seen anyone approach a fire victim on the way to an ambulance. Overall, O’Leary said there’s a misconception of the business and most restoration companies and adjusters are trying to help.

“There’s a service that needs to be provided. We’re there to provide it. That’s it,” he said.

The NBC10 Investigators reached out to many other restoration companies and insurance adjusters. The other companies either didn’t return calls, hung up without comment, or said to call their lawyers. Others said they feared speaking out, because of the aggressive nature of the business.

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