Our House Is On Fire: A Walk Through, Part 1
Our house is on fire.
Those are some of the last words you want to hear out of your spouse’s mouth, yet here I was listening to them through the phone at work. I’m fairly certain I broke many laws on the drive home. I knew he and our son were safe because it was the middle of the afternoon and we were all gone to our respective places doing what we do every day. Our dog though, he was at home. Trapped. I was frantically dialing my mom repeatedly until she picked up so I could have her check on the dog. (Don’t worry, my mom was already with him and the fireman who was giving him oxygen. Good Samaritans kicked in the door to rescue him and after a brief stay at the vet he was on the mend.)
When you hear those words there is a period of time that surreal envelopes you. You’re in a fog and moving by an unseen force. Once you set eyes on your house, your home - the place you raised your children and your family celebrated life - and you see the many fire fighters working diligently to put out the flames or giving oxygen to your animals that were able to be saved, that surrealness gives way to grief. Very heavy grief. You hear the shattering glass and can picture which item it is that’s breaking. You hear the firefighters tearing cabinets off the walls and your grandmother’s dishes hitting what was once your kitchen floor. You hear them tearing into walls to make sure they got the fire completely out. There is nothing that can prepare you for this feeling.
So, what would be the first thing you do in a situation like this? What are the things that should be at the top of your to-do list, right now? This is what I did:
- Collect yourself - Now is not the time for emotions to control you. Take a deep breath, accept what has happened, and get to work.
- Find your fireproof safe - If you have one, locate your fireproof safe and remove your important documents and items to take with you.
- Call your insurance company - Call your insurance company and file a claim. They will give you a claim number and more than likely let you know an adjuster will contact you once the claim has been assigned. They may also have an inspection done to determine the cause of the fire to determine coverage for the loss.
- Alternative Living Expenses - Make sure you ask your insurance company about Alternative Living Expenses. If you have it on your policy, your insurance company should be able to help you secure housing. You’re going to need somewhere to stay. Depending on how bad your damage is, it may take several months before you are able to move back home. The fire department will also give you information on Red Cross and ask if you’d like them to contact them on your behalf.
- Get it boarded up/tarped - Arrange to have the home secured. More than likely windows and/or doors have been blown out or kicked in and your roof may have been affected. You’ll need to secure the home to protect whatever you may have that is salvageable from falling victim to the weather or someone entering the property.
- Call your doctor and pharmacy - Contact your doctor’s office and pharmacy regarding your medications. Any medication you had may not be able to be used any longer. Your doctor and pharmacy can help you make that determination and get those prescriptions replaced.
- Have utilities shut off - The fire chief will let you know when they are satisfied the fire is completely out and have a final discussion with you before they leave. Be sure to ask if the power and gas will need to be shut off or if they had already ordered it to be done. If you have a small kitchen fire that fills up your home with smoke and doesn't do any other damage this won’t be necessary. For a larger fire, say a total loss, you will definitely want to make sure this is done.
- Give yourself time - Allow yourself time to grieve. This is part of the process people don’t usually talk about. When it comes to fires with a lot of damage or a total loss, you’ve just experienced a major life change and loss. You will feel a whole host of emotions and there is going to be grief, and quite possibly a lot of it. Give yourself time, process it, but don’t dwell in it. The longer you stay in that phase the harder it’s going to be to do what you need to do.