We all want to prevent fire in our homes. When the unthinkable happens, when fire strikes, there are important steps you can take to reduce your losses and make post-fire reconstruction a good deal more comfortable. Some of these steps should begin as soon as the last firefighter leaves the scene.
First, notify your insurance company at once. Many of the larger companies have 24-hour 800 numbers that allow you to report an initial claim at any hour. Often they are able to authorize emergency funds to secure your home and allow you monies for lodging.
Recover valuables. Fire officials may allow you to re-enter your home immediately after a fire if the structural integrity of the building has not been damaged. If so, you will want to try to recover valuables such as your wallet, checkbook, keys, jewelry and etc. You should also try to recover any important documents such as titles and insurance papers. Fire department personnel will be glad to assist you in retrieving these articles if fire officials will not allow you to re-enter your home.
Cover Furniture & Board Windows. You can limit further smoke and water damage by covering furniture and getting furniture with wooden legs out of standing water. Board up all windows as soon as possible yourself if your insurance company can't arrange to have it done. This will prevent weather damage and vandalism.
Medications. If you have needed medications, such as insulin in the home, contact your physician before you attempt to use these medications. Most medications have a heat threshold that renders them useless. If a family member requires medications that have been lost, contact a local hospital's emergency room. They may be able to confirm your prescription and issue an emergency refill if you are not able to contact your regular physician.
Cleaning and Repairs. You may check with your insurance agent the following day to learn where and when to send clothing, draperies and upholstered furnishings for cleaning and repairs. Many companies also allow for car rentals if yours was lost in the fire. The amount you are allowed for room and board can be clarified at the same time.
In the days following the fire, your insurance company will expect you to inventory every item that was destroyed or damaged by the fire. You must also give proof of the age and condition of each item. If you forget about one possession, or if the insurance company disputes its existence, you may lose out unless you have photographic records of each room in the house.
Therefore, one of the best preventive steps you can take today is to take a camera and shoot several photographs of the contents of every room in your home. Store these photos and other valuables in a fire resistant box or better yet in a safety deposit box away from home. The more prepared you make yourself before fire strikes, the sooner life will return to normal.
It is a fact of life that some homeowners (and especially renters) do not have any fire insurance on their homes or belongings, many because of financial hardship. There are organizations able to provide post-fire help for single families with financial hardship. The American Red Cross, a United Way Agency, can supply clothing and temporary housing for fire victims in Northeast Louisiana. They are a godsend for many families. Monroe's Red Cross Office may be contacted by calling (318) 323-5141.
If you have questions about any fire related subject, call the Ouachita Parish Fire Department's Fire Prevention Bureau at (318) 325-1621.