What To Do After a Fire

What To Do After a Fire

On December 8, 2009 at 3:30 a.m. I woke up and smelled burning wire. A few minutes later our entire house was on fire and my wife and I were lucky to make it out alive. Investigators believe that lightning started the fire. I never thought in a million years that a fire would destroy our home. Looking back I realize that we were not prepared for this disaster.  Now I want to use my experience to help you prepare for a disaster that threatens to destroy your home, your property, or your life and help you cope with its aftermath

Nothing had prepared me for the fire and for what would follow it in the days to come.  On the scale of my life’s tragedies the only thing that equaled the fire was the loss of loved ones.  The fire was different though because it was completely unexpected– we had no time to prepare for it and only seconds to react.  Other tragedies that I had experienced had not come so quickly.  I usually had days or weeks to prepare for them and adequate time to react.  I think that my wife and I both felt guilty for feeling so helpless after losing what amounted to personal possessions.  Thankfully noone was hurt in  the fire.  We still had each other.  We could replace the possessions that we needed and we could rebuild our home.  After getting over the initial shock the hardest thing about the fire was the loss of our regular routine.  I guess I had always taken it for granted that I would have a place to come home to, clothes in my closet, food in the refrigerator, a table to eat dinner at, and a pillow to lay my head on after a  long day.  The first lesson the fire taught me was “never take anything for granted.”

The next lesson “be prepared” was something I learned throughout my years in Boy Scouts.  In some ways we were prepared for the fire but in other ways we were not.  My wife and I had never considered what to do if our house ever caught fire.  I have handled fire cases as a lawyer so I have seen the results of fires but I never imagined that I would have a first hand experience with a fire myself.  We don’t have children so we have never had a fire drill and we never discussed what to do if our house caught on fire.  Sure, I knew how to use the fire extinguisher (although it didn’t help) and I took it for granted that my wife knew how to use one too.  Although we had smoke alarms outside of every bedroom in our home we didn’t have one in our garage, which is where the fire started.  We weren’t prepared in that regard.  

As a lawyer I understand the importance of  insurance.  Even though we had homeowners insurance to cover the fire I had never read my policy from cover to cover before the fire and it had been a while since we had reviewed our coverage with our insurance agent.   Something else I discovered during this process is that your home mortgage has a provision in it that sets out what your rights and responsibilities are after a loss.  Some mortgages do not even give you the option of repairing or rebuilding your home after it is destroyed.  Most mortgages, including mine, require you to pay ALL of the insurance proceeds to the mortgage company and continue making your monthly payments while you rebuild regardless of the amount of the mortgage.  Think about that one for a minute— if your mortgage is $50,000 and your insurance company pays $150,000 the mortgage company has the right under the mortgage to hold the entire $150,000 while you rebuild your home and require you to make your monthly payment unless you opt to pay off your mortgage.  If you pay off your mortgage and need additional funds to rebuild then you have to get a construction loan which is very hard to do these days.  

How to Prepare for a Fire Itself

  • Make sure you have a smoke detector in every bedroom, in every room which adjoins a bedroom, and in your garage.
  • Link all smoke detectors together so if one goes off they all go off.
  • Develop a plan to evacuate the house when the smoke alarms go off.
  • Hold fire drills and practice evacuating the house.
  • Make sure that your children understand that their first priority is to leave the house not to look for mommy and daddy.
  • Make sure that each bedroom has at least two ways out and practice climbing out of the window.
  • Learn how to detect fire by touching the door handle.
  • Teach your children to crawl on the ground under the smoke.

How to Prepare for the Impact of a Fire

  • Read your insurance policy.
  • Read your home mortgage regarding provisions after a loss.
  • Take photographs and inventory the contents of your home.

What to Do After a Fire

       The Day of The Fire

  • Make sure everyone is accounted for and Ok.
  • Call your insurance company and report the claim.
  • Take care of your basic necessities— food, shelter, clothing.
  • Take care of your immediate hygiene and health needs and get prscriptions filled.   

      A Day After the Fire

      A Week After the Fire

      A Month After the Fire

      Six Months After the Fire

 

More to come…     

  

 

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