What to do when your house burns down

Friends of mine called me a week ago to let me know their house was burning down.  I learned a lot over the next few days regarding what to do when you’re in a similar situation.  So if you find yourself in the horrible situation of having to deal with a fire in your home, here are some things to do, in order of priority:

1) Get out of the house.  Leave everything.  Don’t stop to collect any belongings.  Fire can spread extremely quickly and you want to make sure you get out alive.  In this case, by the time they saw the fire and smelled the smoke an entire corner of the house was already consumed by flames. Luckily, all the people made it to safety. Unfortunately, all their furry family members were not as lucky and the only person who was hurt was the one who returned to the house to attempt to get the cats.  So get out immediately and stay out. My friends ran out of the house, one in bare feet in the snow, and they left everything behind — they had no cell phones or money or anything else  — but they are alive and healthy today.  So just get up and GO.  Don’t delay.

phone2) Call the fire department.  OK, I know this is very intuitive, but seriously, this is the first thing you should do once you get out is to make sure the fire department is on its way.  Run to the nearest neighbor, even if you don’t know them; just find a phone and get the fire department there. Do not call from inside the burning house — get out and call.  And that should be followed immediately by…

3) Call your homeowners insurance company.  If you have decent homeowner’s insurance, your insurance company should definitely be an immediate call; even while the home still burns.  They should open your claim, set up appointments with insurance professionals and put you in touch with a temporary housing organization.  In this case, that very same day my friends were put in a hotel that allowed their dogs, and the next day they were viewing a potential temporary rental housing that will be home for the next six-twelve months while their house is rebuilt.  The insurance coverage should pay for rent, furniture rental, real estate fees, and more.  If you do not have homeowners insurance, get it. And if you don’t have enough coverage, increase it.  You never know when you might need it.

4) Accept help.  Many people want to help when someone else has faced a disaster and this is the time to accept that assistance.  In this case, my friends were given many bags of clothing, pocketbooks, reading books, hangars, gift cards, and more.  While many of us don’t like to ask for help, or to accept it, a major disaster such as a home fire is an appropriate time to say ‘yes’ to offers of assistance.

The above are things to do in the first week after a fire.  My friends are now safely in their temporary home, and can now focus on rebuilding their home.  Because they got out of the house immediately, made all the right calls, and had the right insurance, they are well on their way to rebuilding their life. And for that, I am very grateful.

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