According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there’s an average of more than 343,000 house fires each year. This leads to destroyed homes, severe burns and, in some cases, death.
In case a disaster strikes, it’s important to be prepared. To help you keep you and your family safe, we’ve outlined a complete checklist of what to do after a house fire below.
Table of Contents:
- Get Out and Call 9-1-1
- Make Sure Everyone Is Safe
- Contact Your Insurance
- Connect With a Home Restoration Expert
- Secure Your Home
- Find a Safe Living Space
- Tend to Your Pets
- Document Everything
- Care For Your Mental Health
- For Wildfires: Get Legal Representation
1. Get Out and Call 9-1-1
During a fire, the first thing you need to do is get out of the house and call 9-1-1 or your local emergency phone number. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, small flames can turn into a major fire in just 30 seconds. So don’t worry about saving your possessions — move fast and get to safety.
If your building has elevators, take the stairs. If your home is filled with smoke, crouch under the smoke until you reach the exit. Once outside, shut doors behind you and wait for help to arrive.
2. Make Sure Everyone Is Safe
Next, check in on the safety of those who live with you and apply first aid when possible. For first degree burns, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following steps:
- Cool the burn with cool water or cold, wet compresses for 10 minutes
- Use petroleum jelly two to three times daily
- Apply a nonstick, sterile bandage to the burn
- Consider taking over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to reduce pain and inflammation
- Keep your burn away from the sun as much as possible to minimize scarring
If an injury is serious, get professional medical treatment as soon as possible. Once everyone is safe, contact your friends and family to let them know.
3. Contact Your Insurance
After you’ve confirmed the safety of your family, contact your insurance provider. Your agent should be able to walk you through the process of making a claim and securing financial support to cover emergency living expenses. It’s worth asking them to connect you to fire damage restoration companies as well.
Keep in mind that claims can take longer than you’d expect to settle. Study your policy thoroughly and don’t get rushed into a quick settlement. It’s possible that insurance companies give you a check that amounts to a value significantly lower than what you’re entitled to.
4. Connect With a Home Restoration Expert
Fires can cause permanent structural damage to your house and belongings. It can be necessary to douse a fire with water, which can cause a different type of damage to your living space.
After a fire, items in your home are likely to experience:
- Fire damage
- Smoke damage
- Water damage
- Mold damage
It isn’t always easy to determine what items are and aren’t salvageable by yourself. It’s important to connect with a home restoration expert who can see subtle signs of fire damage and contamination. This will ensure the safety of your family in the long run.
5. Secure Your Property
After the fire is out, your homeowner’s policy may require that you secure your property from further damage. Once you’ve confirmed that it’s safe to do so with the fire department, do everything you can to protect your home.
Safety measures you may want to follow:
- Board up doors and windows with plywood
- Place tarps over holes in the roof
- Contact your utility provider to turn off your gas, water and electric
Covering the entrances of your home with plywood will help prevent further harm and unauthorized access to your space while you’re gone. Tarping your roof will help prevent leaks and keep out animals. Turning off utilities is important if your fire was caused by gas or electrical systems.
6. Find a Safe Living Space
Ideally, your insurance company will help you secure emergency housing. However, if you need help after a house fire with no insurance, you have other options. Helpful organizations you can reach out to include:
- Salvation Army
- American Red Cross
- Local churches
- Department of Health and Human Services
- Local emergency services
Contact these organizations and they’ll likely help you find temporary shelter, clothes and other necessities.
If these don’t work out, you may want to seek out a hotel for a short-term solution or seek out an apartment for a long-term solution.
7. Tend to Your Pets
If you have pets, it’s important to make sure they’re safe and taken care of. When you leave your property, take them with you. They’ll likely be anxious and if you leave them with your property, the toxic smoke particles could cause health issues.
8. Document Everything
During the aftermath of a fire, you’ll likely be communicating with insurance companies and home restoration services. Save receipts and record transactions during the process. You may want to put together a binder to organize important documents.
9. Care For Your Mental Health
After a disaster, it’s natural to feel anxious, confused, depressed, angry, scared or overwhelmed. While it’s first important to make sure that you’re physically safe, your next priority should be to care for the mental health of you and your family.
Some steps you can take to cope with stress after a fire include:
- Talk: Don’t be afraid to share your emotions with your loved ones. When you express yourself, it helps them do the same.
- Validate feelings: When a loved one expresses themself, assure them that their thoughts and feelings are natural.
- Reach out for support: Stress and anxiety may persist long after the fire has ended. If that’s the case, you may want to reach out to a therapist or other medical professional for help.
Additionally, make sure that you are staying physically healthy in the aftermath of a disaster. Eating right, staying hydrated, exercising and resting will help you minimize the negative impacts of stress.
10. For Wildfires: Get Legal Representation
If your home was burned in a wildfire, it’s possible that your insurance will not cover your losses. However, almost 85% of wildfires are caused by humans. In some cases, this is a result of negligent gas or electric utility companies.
Nadrich & Cohen can help you hold these companies responsible and help you recover your losses from the fire. We’re contingency fee lawyers, so we will not charge fees to represent you in a wildfire unless we recover financial compensation for you.
For our full checklist on what to do after a house fire, check out our infographic below.