Rusty Amarante & Tom Yacobellis – Belfor is Ichiban; Managing High Profile Coronavirus Projects

Air Date: 6-12-2020|Episode 589

This week we welcome back Rusty Amarante and Tom Yacobellis for a show we are calling Belfor is Ichiban; Managing High Profile Coronavirus Projects. Belfor is the largest restoration company in the world and as such ends up on some very interesting projects. This week we will discuss the cleaning and disinfecting of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. This ship was in the news a lot when it had to be docked in Japan after passengers developed CV19. We will go through the process and obstacles to cleaning and disinfecting a floating city.


Rusty Amarante is a Certified Restorer and Director of Operations for BELFOR Property Restoration the global leader in disaster recovery. He is also President of the BELFOR Franchise Group a leading national franchisor of service brands including 1-800-WATER DAMAGE, DUCTZ International and HOODZ International.
Rusty’s career started in the 1970’s in suburban Philadelphia, PA and has ranged from the owner of a small cleaning and restoration company that grew to a large regional full service restoration contractor before joining the BELFOR Team in the 1990’s. Over the past forty plus years he has been an IICRC instructor, state approved CEC trainer for the insurance industry and avid contributor and volunteer to the industry’s not-for-profit sector.
Tom Yacobellis is Director of National Operations for Belfor Mechanical an International HVAC remediation, restoration and diagnostic firm with 80 locations nationwide. He is the founder of DUCTZ International and has 38years’ experience in the design, installation, and restoration of HVAC systems and 29 years specifically in the HVAC remediation industry and Building Diagnostics.
Tom has been continuously engaged in the diagnosis, inspection, and restoration of HVAC mechanical and building related systems since 1979. He is a 30-year Florida State licensed HVAC, Mold Assessment, and Mold Remediation, contractor. Toms is an active expert witness for the Florida Attorney General’s office for consumer fraud in HVAC, and building mold mitigation trades. Tom holds lifetime achievement awards from both the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) and The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA). Tom has extensive standards creation and drafting experience for NADCA, IICRC, ASHRAE, ACCA, and IAQA.
Z-Man’s Blog:

BELFOR is Ichiban

Rusty Amarante, CR, has over 40 years of experience in the restoration industry. He is the Director of Operations for BELFOR Property Restoration, the global leader in disaster recovery and President of BELFOR Franchise Group, the world’s largest residential and commercial services franchise group including well-established and fast-growing brands: 1-800 WATER DAMAGE, Chem-Dry Carpet & Upholstery Cleaning, Delta Restoration Services, DUCTZ International, HOODZ International, N-Hance Wood Refinishing, PACKOUTZ and Z PLUMBERZWhether handling a loss that affected a family of three or a major catastrophe requiring teams of 3,000+, he knows every situation is its own unique challenge. Rusty is responsible for coordinating the BELFOR National Catastrophe Team’s logistics, workforce, equipment and resources in the aftermath of national disasters on a daily basis.

Tom Yacobellis is the founder and Director of National Operations for DUCTZ International a BELFOR subsidiary conducting HVAC remediation, restoration, and diagnostic services. The firm has 80 locations nationwide. Tom has 38 years’ experience in the design, installation, and restoration of HVAC systems and 29 years, specifically in the HVAC remediation industry and Building Diagnostics. He is a 30-year Florida State licensed HVAC, Mold Assessment, and Mold Remediation, contractor.

Ichiban is a Japanese adjective meaning: number one, first or best.

Nuggets mined from ‘today’s episode:

Rusty Amarante-

  • We need to roll back the clock several months to when COVID-19 emerged. It was unclear how the virus was contracted. Little was known and the fear level was high. BELFOR would be cleaning rooms with active COVID-19 cases including rooms in which occupant deaths were attributed to COVID-19.
  • Historically, Europe has been an important center for ship services. With deep roots in Europe, BELFOR has significant prior experience dealing with ships (norovirus, fires, etc.). BELFOR has a global footprint. BELFOR provided a fixed price for the project, while not the low bidder BELFOR promised to finish the project in the shortest amount of time and delivered on the promise by finishing early.
  • ‘BELFOR’s two offices in Japan were a key factor in BELFOR being awarded the Diamond Princess project. ‘BELFOR’s Japanese offices were instrumental in handling logistics for the project and providing 40 workers.
  • Jurisdiction is determined by where the vessel is docked. Jurisdiction changes when vessel is at sea and marine law takes precedence.
  • While OSHA may be more assertive, BELFOR has a strong international health and safety team. BELFOR considers its employees as family. The safety requirements on the Diamond Princess project exceeded those mandated for asbestos.

Tom Yacobellis-

  • Fourteen stories high from the waterline, with 5000 rooms housing 3000 passengers and 2000 crew, the Diamond Princess is an enormous vessel larger than some small cities. Actual Stats:

Cruise Line:  Princess Cruises,  Registry:  Bermuda

Year Built: 2004,  Year Last Refurbished: 2019

Capacity: 2,670,  Passengers,  Crew 1,100

Decks: 18,  Gross Tonnage: 115,875,  Length: 952 ft

  • For safety purposes, cruise ships are zoned according to fire safety and water-tightness guidelines.
  • The large mechanicals located in the center of the ship with stainless steel ductwork running up and down. 87 massive air handlers service 2000 rooms and 1000 additional spaces.
  • Shipboard HVAC systems operate at a higher pressure and are noisier than HVAC systems found in commercial buildings. The filtration is highly efficient, supply-side ‘doesn’t capture soil; the return side was the problem. Standard coil cleaning procedures were used.
  • The Japanese Ministry of Health took worker temperatures daily, scanned workers in and out daily, PPE face seals were fit tested daily, required workers to wear 3 pairs of gloves. One pair of gloves, booties was doffed after leaving a known COVID-19 room. Workers were sprayed down with antimicrobial solution and step into antimicrobial footbath. Workers’ production time was reduced to 6 hours out of each 12 hour shift. Crew size varied but essentially was 80 per shift with 3 shifts running.
  • CTEH an internationally recognized environmental consulting firm, provided project oversight. Every area of the ship has a designation. CTEH entered all of the area designations into a computer program for tracking.
  • The ship’s luggage area was used for staging.
  • CTEH staff were embedded into the work crews. Eleven rooms were chosen as a test to confirm the deep cleaning and disinfection process. The Japanese Health Ministry conducted genetic testing of the virus.
  • BELFOR workers all volunteered to go to Japan. Workers brought additional PPE with them to supply the project.
  • Workers scoured Yokohama stores for waterproof gloves. Tom needed to use field experience to create chemical applicators with compressors and spray nozzles.
  • Cellphones and passports were left in the rooms and remained on the ship. They all had to be carefully processed and cataloged to return to the occupants.
  • BELFOR workers stayed in local hotels.
  • Hotels were concerned the BELFOR staff might bring the virus back to the hotel so extra precautions were employed to keep the hotel area safe, restaurant services were not available as one precaution.
  • At 06:30 AM and 7:00 PM, workers were bussed to and from the dock daily. At one point, buses were running all three shifts to and from the hotel an port.
  • Workers were fed Japanese vegetable sandwiches for breakfast and lunch. Lack of western food was a hurdle. Workers shopped at convenience stores for ramen noodles, comfort foods, etc.
  • The ship provided the required antimicrobial solution approved by the Japanese ministry, initial concerns that they ‘wouldn’t have enough.
  • After arriving back at the hotel, project managers spent several hours on daily debriefing phone conferences back to the US. The time difference between the US and Japan meant it was the end of the day in Japan and very early in the morning in the US. Logistically challenging.

The multi level in-depth cleaning process:

  • Occupant personal belonging needed to be removed from rooms.
  • mattresses and soft furnishings were removed from rooms.
  • Rooms were dosed with antimicrobial solution.
  • High touch surfaces wiped with antimicrobial solution.
  • Other surfaces wiped with antimicrobial solution.
  • Local HVAC dismantled, HEPA vacuumed, cleaned and wiped with antimicrobial solution and reassembled.
  • Carpet cleaned and sanitized. (needed to bring in 20 new commercial carpet cleaning machines)
  • Rooms inspected by the CTEH and signed off on to meet the Japanese ministry protocol.
  • Rooms were sealed after completing no cleaned area of the ship was allowed to be entered again by workers once complete.

Analogy of baking 2000 birthday cakes when no baking flour is available.

  • Dust masks, respirators, Tyvek suits ‘weren’t available.
  • BELFOR used workers from 19 different countries to bring needed safety equipment to Japan. The PAPR respirators that were ordered never arrived until well after the job was completed.
  • No temps were used, only BELFOR workers.
  • The cruise industry neverstops – When a 1-month-old cruise ship developed corrosion inside of its stainless ductwork due to debris left after construction, BELFOR crews cleaned the ship while continually sailing at sea.
  • It was challenging getting BELFOR crews back home from Japan due to COVID-19. Air travel and airports were shut down. Some returning crews were forced to quarantine for several weeks.

Tom Yacobellis:

Shout out to acknowledge coworkers on the project:

  • Guy Sullivan BELFOR onsite project manager
  • Matt Horrigan (BELFOR Environmental)
  • Guido Gavio (BELFOR Singapore)
  • Kirk Lively (BELFOR USA)
  • Koji Toritani (BELFOR Japan project administrator)
  • Neville Miles (Managing Director, BELFOR Asia)

Rusty Amarante:

  • Lessons are learned from every large event. Was this a one off event or will we change our plans or protocols?
  • Going forward, we are developing best practices for future events. ‘We’ll ask more questions and examine through bigger eyes. 3M won’t supply dust masks to the restoration industry until Dec/Jan 2020 2021.
  • We don’t want the cupboards bare.
  • There is no substitute for experience.
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