After the first initial shock of a fire wears off and everyone is safe, the devastation of the damage sets in. Where do you begin to pick back up the pieces? What happens after a fire? What if you have no family, no money or friends to help you?
You might feel more comfortable contacting a family member or a friend for help, but what if you can't? Even if you can perhaps you don't want to impose. There are places to help you find shelter, food, clothing and other necessities your family needs. Consider you and your families medical needs as well. Don't forget to ask for help with these items. Organizations such as the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and churches will help you in your time of need. Don't feel embarrassed about having to take a hand out during this time. You've suffered a major lost from something beyond your control, even with insurance it will take time to rebuild yourself after a fire hits. After your families needs are met, call your insurance provider if you have fire coverage. If you do not have fire coverage seek help from your family, friends and organizations in your community.
If you have pets don't forget to find them temporary placement as well. If they are outside pets and in a safe location, you might see if a neighbor can keep an eye on them and feed them.
You should never reenter your home after a fire. The fire might not be completely out, the home may still be filled with smoke or the structure might not be stable. The firefighters or response team will take care of seeing if your home is safe to enter again. If your doors and windows are broke out, it might be necessary to board them up. This will keep people from entering the fire site, getting injured, and the looters out.
Once your home is safe to enter, you should first try to find important documents. This includes passports, social security cards, drivers licenses and any other identification documents. Even if they have fire damage try to salvage important papers. Try to find your medical records, insurance, and things like eyeglasses. Do not take your medication. The are not safe to take after being in a fire, heat or smoke. Do not consume any thing that has been in a fire. Now make an effort to find any valuables your pictures, money, credit cards, jewelry etc... Some items might be salvageable. Some clothing can be cleaned for fire damage as well as other items. However, do not use any electrical device that was in a fire. Even if it looks safe, it can have water damage.
Once you have assess the damage, begin making documentation of the fire damage. Use a camera or video camera if necessary. Refrain from throwing away anything until 1) it is recorded as being damaged 2) your insurance company says to throw it away. The last thing you want to do is toss it in the dump and your provider to need to verify it. Call your agent to see the procedure and protocol they require for their records. Also call the bank if your under a mortgage. If you are insured, keep up with every receipt that pertains to your spending because of the fire. For example: hotel stays, travel expenses, having to get new glasses or prescriptions filled. Anything at all that result in extra spending due to the fire.
Be sure to contact anyone important in your life. As hard as dealing with a fire can be, appoint one member of your family to call everyone else with all the needed information. Such as your new location and any contact phone numbers. You will need to contact your place of employment and children's schools to note the change of location, even if temporary. Contact your post office and have them hold your mail. You might also be required to fill out a change of address card. If you are not sure of your permanent location, consider getting a po box for now. The local police and fire department should also be notified of your new location.
Contact the utility companies. If your home is totally destroyed or unlivable for a long period of time it might be the better choice to have the utilities completely shut off. If it is cold weather, drain the water pipes so they do not freeze and burst. This includes turning off the satellite, phone, cable and internet. You will not be wanting to pay bills for something not being used. Contact your cell phone company to get replacement cell phones.
Last but not least, don't feel embarrassed to seek counseling for you or your family. A fire is a traumatic event and shouldn't be taken lightly. Small children might not feel safe any more, and your spouse might feel depressed from the lost. This is not the time to be too proud to take a handout. If you can not afford counseling contact a church or place like Lifeskills. Lifeskills' fees are based on need or economic status. The local American Red Cross can also help you find contacts and agencies. You shouldn't have to go through a house fire alone. Lean on your family and friends for support if nothing else. You might feel fine one day, then several days later it hits you, the reality of a fire. Allow yourselves time to grieve as many memories are made within the walls of a house. Sometimes it feels like a death. Grieving is a natural process, and you should allow yourself and your family the opportunity to grieve. Allow your children to know it's ok to cry and to be sad. While it's understandable to want to protect your children from grief it is crucial to allow them this opportunity to heal. Don't keep your own grieving or tears from your children. Seeing mommy or daddy cry is just a reassurance that it's perfectly ok to be sad and that their own feelings, thoughts and emotions are ok. Have your children draw pictures and put together a family scrapbook. Get photos from friends and relatives that were taken inside your home for the scrapbook.