After the Fire
In the event you suffer a fire at your home or business, life as you know it will change. If you plan ahead, the recovery phase will be much shorter for you. The most important factor is doing everything possible to assure everyone survives the incident. Having functioning smoke alarms, an escape plan, and unobstructed exit pathways are keys to increasing fire survival risk. All this being said, recovery from a significant fire in your home or business, even without any injuries or deaths, will require patience and a lot of hard work.
First Things First
A fire in your home will be an emotionally trying event. It will usually be hardest on children, the elderly, or those with disabilities. It is important to remain calm and first make certain everyone is physically okay. Seeing to food, water, medications, and rest are the first priorities. To help with the emotional trauma, it's important to find shelter in a quiet, safe place. Isolation from the turmoil of the fire scene (and related news) can be beneficial. Focus on any positive aspects of the situation and be receptive to help from family and friends. In the days after a fire, returning to some form of a routine as quickly as possible will also be helpful. Arrange shelter for pets, and visit them frequently during the recovery period.
Do not re-enter you home unless the fire department has told you it is safe to do so. Often, they will be happy to assist you in recovering important items if it is no longer safe to stay at your home. Contact your insurance agency as soon as possible. Many insurance companies have crews available to assist you after a fire. If safe to do so, document the damage with photos and video. Begin compiling a list of damaged or destroyed items. Be sure to make copies for yourself of any documentation shared with insurance companies or other agencies.
Fires and other natural disasters can destroy personal items and information in moments. In today's computer-assisted world It's becoming increasingly easy to back up important information and KEEP A COPY IN A REMOTE LOCATION AWAY FROM THE HOME OR BUSINESS. Here is a list of common, important documents, including where to obtain replacements:
- Driver's license, auto registration: Department of motor vehicles
- Bank accounts/books (checking, savings, etc.): Your bank, as soon as possible
- Insurance policies: Your insurance agent
- Military discharge papers: Department of Veterans Affairs
- Passports: Passport service
- Birth, death and marriage certificates: Bureau of Records in the appropriate state
- Divorce papers: Circuit court where decree was issued
- Social Security or Medicare cards: Local Social Security office
- Credit cards: The issuing companies, as soon as possible
- Titles to deeds: Records department of the locality in which the property is located
- Stocks and bonds: Issuing company or your broker
- Wills: Your attorney
- Medical records: Your physician
- Warranties: Issuing company
- Income tax records: The IRS Center where filed, or your accountant
- Citizenship papers: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
- Prepaid burial contract: Issuing company
- Animal registration papers: Humane Society
- Mortgage papers: Lending institution
Inspections and restoration of your home following a fire is best left to professionals. Since your insurance company will be paying your claim, it's important to consult with them regarding authorized service providers. Many companies specializing in fire restoration and re-building can be found in the local Yellow Pages. Be sure to check their reputations through agencies such as the Better Business Bureau or Attorney General's Office.
For additional information, see the United States Fire Administration booklet "After the Fire".