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You had a fire at your home, now what? Whether it is a fire that causes minimal damage or totally destroys your home, the fire will change your life in the following days. Although we hope and pray this never happens to you, we want you to be equipped with the knowledge of what to expect and what your next steps are if it does. If a fire does occur in your home, you will be very overwhelmed with emotions and most likely have a difficult time figuring out where to go from there. Reading about this now will prepare you for a successful recovery IF the disaster of a house fire does damage your home. If this never happens to you, maybe you can help someone you know if they face the tragedy of a home fire.
Steps to Take
1. Mentally Prepare
Knowing what you are about to walk into when returning to your home will mentally prepare you for the journey ahead. Expect to have serious damage to your home. Even if the fire itself was not extreme, you will have heat, smoke, and water damage that will destroy some property. Additionally, the structure of your home may have major exterior damage. It is common for firefighters to cut holes in walls and bust through the roof of a house to let out the heat and smoke. As a fire grows, the heat increases, and black smoke spreads very quickly causing limited visibility for firefighters. Getting the windows open allows for ventilation inside the home which can help save life and property.
2. Use Caution
Keep in mind that even if the fire is out, reentering your home may be dangerous. Fires can start up again even if they appear to be out. Fire can also be hidden behind walls. Your home may be so severely damaged that it is determined unlivable. There may be some structural damage that leaves the ceilings and floors unsecure and likely to collapse. Broken windows may leave glass scattered around. The smoke and soot from the fire are also very dangerous to inhale and poses a serious health risk to the occupants of the home. Do not eat, drink, or breathe in anything that has been around flames, smoke, soot, or the water or other substances used to put out a fire.
3. Take Care of Yourself and Family
Following a fire, you and your family will be overwhelmed with trying to comprehend the devastation you just experienced. It is important to maintain your well-being during this time and ensure your familys safety. Dont be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to family and friends and express the need for assistance. If that is not an option, there are organizations that provide relief services such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The fire department can contact these resources for you if you advise you need them and help set you up with a representative that will meet with you and help you along the way. These organizations are familiar with disaster relief and can find you a place to stay as well as provide you with clothing and food.
4. Help Your Pets
Pets are usually very scared after a fire. Find your pets and make sure to comfort them to alleviate the stress. Scared animals often react by biting or scratching. Handle your pets gently and try to be calm around them. If you are able to, leave your pets with a family member or friend if you are returning to your home for cleanup and restoration. It is unsafe for them to be there during that time and the chances of them escaping are higher due to broken windows and doors.
5. Secure Your Home
You may not be able to live in your home due to the damage caused by the fire, leaving your home unoccupied. If windows and doors have been broken, you may need to board up your house, making it vulnerable to crime. If you are going to be away from your home for a period of time until the house has been made livable again, contact your local police department to let them know. They can make note that the owners of the home are not currently living there so if they see anything out of the norm they can respond accordingly.
6. Contact Your Insurance Agent
It is crucial to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible after there is a fire in your home. Provide them with the important details of the incident and report any damage to them. If you have pictures of the interior and exterior of the home before a fire took place, submit those to them to see the condition. Also list the value of any property that was destroyed. Most insurance companies will require a fire report documenting the incident from the fire department. You can contact the responding fire department and/or fire marshal to obtain a copy of the completed report.
Additionally, ask your insurance company for trusted resources to help you with damage and restoration. Companies provide many services helpful to victims of a fire, including:
- Securing your home against more damage
- Estimating the damage
- Making repairs to damaged home and property
- Estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property
- Storing household items
- Hiring cleaning or repair subcontractors
- Storing repaired items until needed
7. Replace Valuable Documents, Records, and Money
Hopefully, important documents and records were not completely destroyed in the fire; however, if they were, they will need to be replaced. Some of the items that will require replacing include:
- Drivers license
- Auto registration
- Insurance policies
- Military records
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificates
- Death certificates
- Divorce papers
- Social security cards
- Medicare cards
- Credit cards
- Titles to deeds
- Stocks and bonds
- Medical records
- Income tax records
- Citizenship papers
- Prepaid burial contracts
- Animal registration papers
- Mortgage papers
How to Cope
- Exercise regularly
- Try meditation or deep breathing
- Allow yourself to feel joy even though you are coping with loss
- Hold off on major life changes, such as switching jobs
- Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be accomplishing a lot
- Do not isolate yourself
- Talk about the situation with your family and friends
- Take advantage of community support
- Keep in mind what you still have instead of focusing on what you lost
- Avoid prescribed mood-altering substances and excess alcohol
- Get plenty of rest
- Eat well-balanced meals
Children Coping with Crisis
According to the American Psychological Association, following experiencing a fire, children and adolescents can react in numerous ways such as having nightmares, sleep disorders, and developing anxiety. By establishing habits based on the coping tips provided above, you will be able to be a positive role model for your children. Children look to their parents for guidance, support, and answers and they will feed off your emotions. Encourage your children to be open about their thoughts and feelings but also keep them in an as normal of a routine as possible. Explain to them that although material items may been lost, their life and being together as a family is what’s most important.