Recovering from a fire can be a physically and mentally draining process. When fire strikes, lives are suddenly turned around. Often, the hardest part is knowing where to begin and whom to contact.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) United States Fire Administration (USFA) has gathered the following information to assist you in this time of need. Action on some of the suggestions will need to be taken immediately. Some may be needed in the future while others may be on going. The purpose of this information is to give you the assistance you need as you begin rebuilding your life.
The First 24 Hours
Securing yourself and the site
- Contact your local disaster relief service, such as the American Red Cross (912) 871-5929, to help with your immediate needs, such as:
- temporary housing
- other essential items
- Contact your insurance agent or company
- Do not enter the damaged site. Fires can rekindle from hidden, smoldering remains.
- Normally, the fire department will see that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. Do not attempt to turn on utilities yourself.
- Be watchful for structural damage caused by the fire. Roofs and floors may be damaged and subject to collapse.
- Food, beverages and medicine exposed to heat, smoke, soot and water should not be consumed.
Leaving Your Home
- Contact your local police or Sheriff’s department to let them know the site will be unoccupied.
- In some cases, it may be necessary to board up openings to discourage trespassers.
- Beginning immediately, save receipts for any money you spend. These receipts are important in showing the insurance company what money you have spent related to your fire loss and also for verifying losses claimed on your income tax.
- If it is safe to do so, try to locate the following items:
- Identification, such as drivers license and Social Security Cards/passports
- Insurance information
- Medical information
- Eyeglasses, hearing aids or prosthetics
- Valuables such as credit cards, bank books, cash and jewelry
- There are many people and entities that should be notified of your relocation, including:
- Your insurance agent/company
- Your mortgage company (inform them of the fire)
- Your family and friends
- Your employer
- Your child’s school
- Your post office
- Any delivery services
- Your fire and police departments
- Your utility companies
- Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made. All damages are taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.
- If you are considering contracting for inventory or repair services discuss your plans with your insurance agent/company first.
If You Are Insured
- Give notice of the loss to the insurance company or the insurer’s agent/company.
- Ask the insurance company what to do about the immediate needs of the dwelling, such as covering doors, windows, and other exposed areas, and pumping out water.
- Ask your insurance agent/company what actions are required of you. Some policyholders may be required to make an inventory of damaged personal property showing in detail the quantity, description and amount you paid for the items.
If You Are Not Insured
- Your recover than from a fire loss may be based upon your own resources and help from your community.
- Private organizations that may be sources of aid or information:
- American Red Cross (912) 871-5929
- Religious organizations
- Civic organizations
- Non-profit crisis counseling centers
Valuing your property
You will encounter different view points on the value of your property in adjusting your fire loss or in claiming a casualty loss on your federal income tax. Knowing the following terms will help you understand the process used to determine the value of your fire loss:
Your personal valuation: Your personal loss of goods through fire may be difficult to measure. These personal items have sentimental value to you; however, it is objective measures of value that you, the insurer, and the Internal Revenue Service will use as a common ground for discussion. Some of these objective measures are discussed below.
Cost when purchased: This is an important element in establishing an item’s final value. Receipts will help verify the cost price.
Fair market value before the fire: This concept is also expressed as ACTUAL CASH VALUE. This is what you could have received for the item if you had sold it the day before the fire. The price would reflect its cost at purchase minus the wear it had sustained since purchase. DEPRECIATION is the formal term used to express the amount of value an item loses more than a period of time.
Value after the fire: This is sometimes called the item’s salvage value.
There are companies that specialize in the restoration of fire damaged structures. Whether you or your insurer employs this type of service, be clear of who will pay. Before hiring any company, request an estimate of cost for the work and check their references. These companies provide a range of services that may include some or all of the following:
- Securing the site against further damage
- Estimating structural damage
- Repairing structural damage
- Estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property
- Packing, transportation, and storage of household items
- Securing appropriate cleaning and repair subcontractors
- Storing repaired items until needed
State Licensed Public Adjusters
Public adjusters represent the homeowner when claims are filed with the insurance company. Their fees are based on a percentage of the homeowner’s settlement, so it is in their best interest to conduct a thorough investigation. Several public adjusters are listed in the Yellow Pages under the heading “Adjusters”.
Replacement Of Valuable Documents And Records
Here is a check list of documents you will need to replace if they have been destroyed and who to contact for information on the replacement process.
Item – Who to contact
Driver’s license, auto registration – Department of motor vehicles
Bank books (checking, savings, etc.) – Your bank, as soon as possible
Insurance policies – Your insurance agent
Military discharge papers – Department of Veterans Affairs 800-827-1000
Passports – U.S. Post Office Passport service
Birth, death and marriage certificates – Health Department (912) 764-5969
Divorce papers – Circuit court where decree was issued
Social Security or Medicare cards– Local Social Security office (866) 748-2088
Credit cards – The issuing companies, as soon as possible
Titles to deeds – Records department where the property is located
Stocks and bonds – Issuing company or your broker
Wills – Your lawyer
Medical records – Your doctor
Warranties – Issuing company
Income tax records – The IRS Center where filed or your accountant
Citizenship papers – U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service 800-375-5283
Prepaid burial contract – Issuing company
Animal registration papers – Animal Shelter 912-764-4529
Mortgage papers – Your Lending institution