Home Fires: Getting Help During and After


  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Firefighters advise that you should NOT re-enter your home. Stay away from the fire and surrounding area.
  3. Call 9-1-1 to report fire and injuries if officials are not already present. Follow the instruction the operator gives you, and those provided by the authorities when they arrive,

WHN TIP – Do Not Go In or Near the House: AGAIN – Do NOT go near the house.

  1. Be safe, be smart.
  2. Depending on the damage, the fire department may allow you to take your personal belongings (clothing, – jewelry, important documents). If you remove anything, you may have to fill out a form with the fire department listing each item. You will not be allowed to take certain items (i.e. couches, TVs, computers, appliances) as they may have been the cause of the fire.
  3. If your car is burned or very damaged by debris, do not start it or move it. Fire officials will tell you when you can move your car.
  4. Ask an on-site fire official for a fire department contact in case of questions after the fire.
    Name/Title __________________________________________________
    Phone ______________________________________________________
  5. Ask the approximate date and time for the initial walk-through of your property. For safety purposes, you MUST be escorted; this is especially true if there is structural damage.
    Date of Walk-Through_____________________________________
    Name of Fire Official______________________________________
    Contact Number_________________________________________

In order to determine the cause of the fire, you may be asked to meet with the fire chief, fire marshal and/or an arson investigator. Go here for a list of potential questions they might ask.

  • Fire Department Contact Name/Title___________________________________
  • Meeting Time and Date_____________________________________________
  • Meeting Location_________________________________________________

WHN TIP – Need the Number? Didn’t get a name or number? Call the non-emergency fire number to get the number of the unit that responded to your fire or to connect you to someone who can assist you.

WHN TIP – First Things: For immediate assistance with shelter, food or other personal needs, consider contacting your local Red Cross chapter.

  1. Ask for the approximate date and time for the initial walk-through of your property. For safety purposes, you MUST be escorted; this is especially true if there is structural damage.
    • If you are insured, you should call your agent about this walk-through. Get the:
      Walk-through date
      Name of fire official you’ll meet there
      Contact number

WHN TIP – For Renters: Make sure you complete the walk-through before the property is turned over to the landlord; ask the fire department what your state’s timeline is (four days after the fire or six weeks?). Landlords are not required to recover your belongings.

File an Insurance Claim

WHN TIP – Local Organizations: If you are not insured, much of the restoration and rebuilding support will come from area support groups such as the Red Cross, faith-based organizations, and family and friends. However, much of the following information will help you organize and sort your thoughts.

  • Phone your insurance agent or a local company representative as soon as possible even if you’re far from home.
    • Date of contact: _________________________________________
    • Insurance agency:_________________________________________
    • Agent name:_________________________________________
    • E-mail:_________________________________________
    • Phones: (office and cell):_________________________________________
    • Your Policy #:_________________________________________

WHN TIP – Number Please: Don’t have your insurance agency’s number? Call toll-free directory assistance at (800) 555-1212 for the toll-free number to your insurance company.

  • If you don’t have your insurance policy, ask your agent to send, e-mail or bring a copy to you ASAP.
  • Check your policy for specifics of what is covered and what is not. Always check with your agent before taking actions or accepting claim checks.
  • Document each conversation in your notebook and include the following:
    • Date and time of phone call/meeting
    • Full name of person you spoke with
    • Items and tasks discussed
    • Next steps to be taken, deadline for completion and who is responsible
    • When someone from the insurance company will arrive to assess the damage (Get name, date, time, and contact information)

WHN TIP – Proof of Loss: The insurance company may require a “proof of loss” form, as well as documents relating to your claim, such as medical and home repair bills, bids and receipts. Be prepared to show photos that detail every room in your house before the damage. No photos? Ask friends and family members if they have any from events taken at your home.

  • Ask how accepting procedures along the way affects your ability to question anything later.
  • If the insurance company offers you a payment, ask if it is a partial or final payment. A final payment is their final offer and you may not be able to receive additional funds.
  • Ask if any information is needed from the fire department in order to process your claim. If so, what type of information?
  • If you had a home-based business, you may be unable to work for an extended period of time, so the financial loss may include your regular income.

WHN TIP – Receiving Payments? If you are receiving money from the insurance company, be sure you understand where it is coming from and how it affects what other settlements you expect and accept.

WHN TIP – Read Questions to Ask Your Insurance Agent for “starter” questions concerning claim adjusters, filing claims, statement of loss, etc.

WHN TIP – Always Ask: Ask your insurance agent which expenditures, if any, will be deducted from your total insurance claim amount or from what you could be reimbursed for (i.e. the cost of temporary housing, transportation, and living expenses may be subtracted from the final claim amount to be received).

WHN TIP – Wait a Minute! You do not have to file a claim or take a claim check right away. Consider other options such as hiring an independent adjuster (read our article Working with a Claims Adjuster) who can act as an intermediary between you and the insurance company. Or seek assistance through the Red Cross or other local organizations. Remember, it’s up to you to decide when or when not to file your insurance claim.

Contacting Others

It’s a hard time, yet remember to tell friends and relatives what has happened and that you are safe.

If you move to temporary housing, begin notifying the people on your emergency contact list. Go here for a printable Family Contact List form — this is also a way to keep track of important numbers at this time. Also begin to alert family and friends.

Additionally, be sure to call the police department and tell them if you will not be in the home for an extended period of time.

NOTE: You may need to make immediate arrangements to secure your property. Ask the fire department about service companies available in your area.

Photo Credit: Kaiskynet Studio

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