For many of us, a residential fire is our worst nightmare. No one wants to go through a house fire, especially not when it poses a serious risk to the loved ones that call your property “home.” Unfortunately, things sometimes happen. When they do, it‘s important to know what steps to take next in order to get yourself back on your feet as quickly as possible.
We get it if there are many emotions in the aftermath, as well as concerns following the event that may result in you being confused about what to do next. Who do you call? Where do you go? When will you be able to go back home and live life as you did before? Fortunately, a restored home is possible – and your home insurance will generally offer you coverage for a property fire. Here is what you should know following a residential fire.
What You Should Not Do
First thing’s first: do not enter your home after a residential fire unless you have been told by a Fire Marshall or other qualified emergency services that it is safe to do so.
If you are allowed to enter your home, do not power on any utilities unless you have been given permission to do so. Try not to immediately start repairs or clear away smoke/soot. Smoke can still be damaging to your lungs even after it has settled, and your insurance company may want to assess the full scale of fire/smoke damage in your home to estimate coverage. Leave this process to the professionals who can do so after estimates have been done and who can do it with the right equipment.
Finally, if you have a vehicle stowed in the garage or driveway, do not start it or move it if there has been significant damage.
Steps to Take Post-Fire
Here is what you should do following a residential fire:
- If you need to re-enter your home, request permission from the Fire Marshall or Fire Department officials.
- Ensure the safety of your loved ones and pets that have been evacuated from the home. If you suspect that a pet or a family member is suffering from smoke injury, seek medical assistance.
- Call any loved ones or family members to let them know about the accident.
- Call your home insurance company or broker to begin the claims’ process.
Remember that fire losses are almost always covered by your home insurance. There are a few exceptions, such as if the fire was caused intentionally or was arranged for. Another instance is if you made major modifications to your home and did not inform your broker or company. Your policy may include other exceptions, so check the wording to be sure or ask your Claims Representative – who will be assigned to your case after you have begun the claims’ process – if you are unclear on anything.
The Claims’ Process
Before you file a claim, be sure to secure the premises first. If that involves going into your home, be sure to get permission from your Fire Department officials beforehand. Make a list of any and all damaged items and damages in your home. While documentation will suffice, take pictures if you can. If you can provide any images or proof (i.e, receipts and photos) of your contents and/or home before the fire, this would be a good time to have those on hand.
Now it’s time to open your claim. Here is the claims’ process following a residential fire, broken down in steps:
- You can file a claim online or call your insurance company/broker. This is not likely to be a brief call, so be sure to put aside around 30 minutes to discuss with the claims department. The agent receiving your call may do the following:
- Ask for your full statement on the accident.
- Check your policy.
- If there are emergency repairs required, they will ask you to call the nearest emergency response, restoration service, or security.
- They will ask you to send in certain documents and/or inform you of which documents you will receive that will need to be filled in.
- They will confirm your deductible and give you your claim number.
- At this point, your claim will be assigned to a Claims Representative. Your Claims Representative is your best resource during this time and has the training and knowledge to advise you through the process. Your Claims Representative will also explain the process if your home is uninhabitable and give you the terms of relocation, as well as go over your Additional Living Expenses that is listed in your policy coverage.
- A contractor or adjuster (or both) will be assigned to assess your property and the overall extent of the damage. They will draw up an estimate of the damages and send this to your Claims Representative. At this point, repairs can begin.
- You should send in a list of the damaged or destroyed property with an overall estimate of the value. While proof of ownership is not necessary, it is extremely helpful and may speed up the claims process. Proof of ownership may include photos, receipts, certificates, warranties, packaging, or even credit card statements.
- Your Claims Representative will begin analyzing your claim and contact you to authorize the beginning of repairs or building. If property or items are written off, your Claims Representative will contact you to arrange a settlement.
- You will receive your settlement as soon as possible, once all the required documents have been sent in. Your Claims Representative will also confirm your deductible and determine who you must pay it to. For repairs, your Claims Representative will go over with you how the payment will be made – whether you will be reimbursed or if they will pay the contractors’ invoice directly. Once repairs are done, make sure you are satisfied with the work before filling out any documents that would certify the completion of repairs or rebuilding.
- Once all payments and repairs have been completed to your satisfaction, your claim will be closed.
During this time, your Claims Representative is your best resource and can address any concerns or answer any questions you may have. It is important to contact them if you have any concerns about repairs, settlement, payment, or if you have a preferred contractor.
While we hope you never do have to go through a residential fire event, we are here for you if you do. We hope that this informational guide gives you some peace of mind and an idea of how to handle the aftermath if a fire does ever happen.