In this installment of our Disaster Dos and Don’ts series, we’ll discuss the proper steps to take in the event of a fire.
Fires, like some floods, can be a traumatic experience that causes stress and turmoil for months or years after the event. Not only could you have been hurt, but your home and property could have been damaged as well, with burns, soot, smoke, and even water damage – all of which can take a long time to repair.
While these are always stressful situations, having a plan and knowing what to do in them can make all the difference.
After getting to safety, the first step is to call the fire department so that the fire can be put out. Although it may seem self-evident, stories abound of people who contact their insurance agent or others first. Get to a safe location and dial 911 to contact the fire department.
The second step in reclaiming your home is to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. The sooner you can do this, the sooner you’ll be able to resume your normal routine. Once you’ve contacted your insurance company, an adjuster will be dispatched to assess the damage and repair costs. Many insurance companies will cover the cost of an inventory of your belongings, which is usually overseen by the mitigation firm. The home or business’s “contents” are photographed, boxed, and labeled. Make sure you check with your agent to see if you have this coverage. Otherwise, you’ll have to do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you.
You’ll want to get a contractor to your house as soon as possible after you’ve contacted your insurance company. Not only will this expedite the rebuilding process, but it will also expedite the cleanup process. While your insurance company may have suggested contractors, you are not obligated to use them and can choose any qualified contractor you want. Water, fire, smoke, soot, and mildew damage can be extremely dangerous, and should be cleaned up as soon as possible by a professional to avoid long-term health effects and further damage. That’s why it’s crucial to work with a contractor you know and can rely on. Take notes on everything during this time. Get any promises made by the insurance company in writing. The last thing you want is to expect something that was mentioned and then not get it because you don’t have any proof.
When you get home, you might be tempted to turn on the lights, water, or heat to make yourself feel a little more at ease – but don’t, at least not until the fire department and your local utilities company have given you the green light. Connecting dangerous utilities can result in gas leaks, water damage, and even more fires.
You must catalog and document all of your property damaged in the fire in order to receive the maximum settlement. This will necessitate providing as much information on each item as possible, including serial numbers and model names, as well as receipts and estimated purchase dates when available. Check to see if your insurance policy covers the handling of contents once more. When documenting items with multiple parts, it’s critical to note each one individually rather than the total. If a tool box is damaged, for example, you should list not only the make, model, and estimated cost of the tool box, but also the make, model, and estimated cost of each tool contained within it. Finally, no matter how badly damaged something is, don’t throw it away until you’ve received approval from your insurance company.
Work closely with your contractor to ensure that they are taking all necessary steps to restore your home or business to its pre-loss state. They are your advocate when it comes to working with the adjustor to ensure that the repairs and finishes are of good quality.
Make a video of your property and its contents once a year. This will make submitting a complete claim to your insurer a lot easier. Use one of the many apps available now to catalog your belongings so that you are prepared in the event of the unthinkable.