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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IMMEDIATELY AFTER A HOUSE FIRE

Immediately after a house fire, you will likely be in shock. You will also be under a lot of stress. However, it’s important to act as quickly as possible. To help you reduce your stress and act quickly, here are the things to do as soon as you can after the fire.

Using the CHECKLIST log vital information, such as:

• Date of fire
•Time of fire
• Location of fire
• Name and address of the fire department that responded and put out the fire
• Name and contact information for the fire marshal or fire investigator

Secure temporary housing

DO NOT OCCUPY A HOUSE THAT IS UNSUITABLE TO LIVE IN. You will probably need to find a place for you and your family to stay right after the fire. If you are unable to reach your Insurance carrier until the next business day, you should contact your local American Red Cross for an emergency hotel. If you elect to stay with friends or family, keep in mind that if your Insurance carrier is not paying for your temporary housing there may not be sufficient motivation for them to settle your claim and get you back into your home. There are also temporary housing companies that can assist you with finding a home comparable to yours to reside in while your home undergoes repairs. Oftentimes, insurance will place you in a hotel while they look for a comparable house. Depending on your policy, there may be other options that your insurance covers such as furnished apartments and town homes. For immediate housing assistance, you can contact your local American Red Cross or Salvation Army.

You can also contact us for assistance with temporary housing.

It is very important to know that as soon as you begin paying for services related to your burned home, you begin tapping into the money available through your fire damage insurance.

Your insurance company will likely have a list of vendors for services that you’ll need. You can use their vendors, but you also have the choice to select your own vendors. Remember that just because they are an Insurance Preferred vendor does not necessarily make them qualified to assist with your damages.

Safety 101

Do not enter your home until the fire department says it is safe to do so. After the fire, it will be tempting to reenter your home. However, it is not safe to go back in right away. Damage caused by the fire, including soot and water left behind, could make you sick. Do not eat or drink anything that has been near the fire in your home. Walls and roofs damaged by the fire could collapse or cave in. Utilities such as water, electricity and gas are most likely not safe to use. The fire department may have shut them off before they left the scene of the fire. Do not turn them back on if they were shut off.

Keep your pets safe

You will want to make sure your pets are found and relocated to a safe place. Animals that are scared can behave differently than normal, including biting and scratching. Don’t let your pets into the fire damaged home until you have a Certificate of Occupancy (COO) to reenter (more on the COO later!).

If you will be relocated to temporary housing it is important to tell your Insurance carrier what pets you have to ensure that your temporary home allows pets. If this is not possible, there are alternative housing options, as mentioned above, that your insurance company may not tell you about. With these options, you can often find housing to accommodate your pet.

Certificate of Occupancy (COO)

Before re-occupying your home after it has been burned, you will need to obtain a certificate of occupancy (COO). The COO will demonstrate that the necessary code requirements have been met and the home is safe to occupy.

Depending on how much damage there was to your home, it might be a very long time and take a lot of restoration work before you can reenter your home. However, it’s helpful to understand the COO process early on after the fire.

You can check your city’s website for how to obtain a COO. However, the steps to obtain it are somewhat similar across municipalities and include:

Complete and submit the necessary paperwork to apply for a COO
Go through an inspection process that typically includes one or multiple inspections

Contact the police department

Let you local police department know that you have had a fire will be away from your home.

     

Your Valuables

Obtain a copy of the fire report
A fire report is a public document in most cities. You will want to have a copy of it for your records. Ask the fire department, the fire marshal or the fire investigator for a copy of it. You will need it when you begin discussions with your insurance company and others in the days and weeks following the house fire.

Contact your insurance carrier
It is best to contact your insurance carrier immediately after the fire to file a claim and to discuss your coverage. Request a copy of your policy if the fire destroyed your copy. Your property may need to be boarded up after the fire for safety and security reasons. If your local fire department does not call a vendor to do this then you will need to request that your Insurance Carrier send someone immediately or contact one on your own. Your Insurance carrier might ask you to do things like make a list of your contents damaged in the fire and detail how much you paid for these items. It is very important that you select a vendor that specializes in contents counting and inventory. More information on selecting a vendor will be covered later on in this book.

Replace valuable documents
Replace any of these documents that were damaged or lost in the fire as quickly as you can:

• Driver’s license
• Bankbooks (checking, savings)
• Passports
• Insurance policies
• Birth, death and marriage certificates
• Social Security cards
• Medicare or Medicaid cards
• Credit cards
• Titles to deeds
• Wills
• Medical records
• Stocks and bonds
• Warranties
• Income tax records
• Citizenship papers
• Animal registration papers
• Mortgage documents

Replace burned or damaged money

Bills
Place damaged paper money in plastic wrap to preserve it and handle it as little as possible. You have two options for replacing burned money:

If half or more of the money is intact, you can take it to your regional Federal Reserve Bank to get it replaced. Your local bank can provide you with the location of the closest Federal Reserve Bank.

 You can take burned money to the Post Office and mail it by “registered mail, return mail requested” to:
Department of the Treasury Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Office of Currency Standards
P.O. Box 37048
Washington, D.C. 20013


Coins
You can take damaged or melted coins to your regional Federal Reserve Bank as well or mail by “registered mail, return receipt requested” to:
Superintendent U.S. Mint
P.O. Box 400
Philadelphia, PA 19105


U.S. Savings Bonds
To replace destroyed U.S. Savings Bonds, obtain the Department of Treasury Form PD F 1048 (I) from your local bank or at www.ustreas.gov and mail it to:
Department of the Treasury
Bureau of the Public Debt
Savings Bonds Operations
P.O. Box 1328
Parkersburg, WV, 26106-1328


Save your receipts
Be sure to save all receipts for items you spend related to the fire. You may be asked to produce them to your insurance company later. You will also need them to claim losses on your income tax.