1. Make sure your loved ones are ok. My philosophy is that anything with a soul needs to be addressed first: spouse, children, pets, and anyone else who may have been in your house at the time. If the paramedics determine that someone needs medical attention, go with them to the hospital and have friends and family meet you there. Delegate the rest of the list to them while you focus on caring for and comforting your loved ones.
2. Find family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers fast. Look for anyone you can trust, whose interest in helping you out is not financially motivated. Get them on the phone and ask them to meet you as soon as possible. Keep them close, while having the vendors remain at arms’ length.
3. Document everything you can for the insurance company. Start by writing down the date and time of the fire, followed by a brief account of what happened. Then, you’ll need to document the extent of the damage: how badly burned is the house, what possessions are lost, singed, or otherwise damaged, etc. Ideally, you’ll want to write it all down, as well as taking photographs of everything. The vendors (cleaners or contractors) may offer to take care of documentation for you. Don’t trust them. Delegate it to someone you know and trust. If your property is safe to enter, then take as much as you can from a safe distance. If it is not safe to enter, then document what you can from the outside.
4. Call the insurance company immediately. The sooner you report the incident and can get in touch with the person who will be handling your case, the better. Here is a list what you should talk to them about:
a. Get the name, phone number and email address of your claim rep. They may be helpful, or they may treat you like just another number, as we talked about earlier. If it’s the latter, don’t worry, they don’t need to be your friends -you have your family for that.
b. Ask them if you’re able to get an emergency advance (i.e. an immediate payment to you against any later payouts) to help you cover expenses. If money is tight, they may be able to get you a few thousand to deal with living day to day.
c. Have them e-mail copy of your policy. Hopefully they’ll do it, so that you can get it as quickly as possible. However, they may only be willing to send it by snail mail, or try to stall the process in other ways. If this is the case, at least have them explain the important information to you. For example, what’s the deductible? What are the limits on housing allowance? In short, what can you expect as you deal with them in the coming weeks and months?
d. Your mailing address. If your house is not livable, have them send all correspondence to a trusted friend/family member. Tell them it will get lost if they don’t do it. If there is a history of mail theft in your neighborhood, and you are not going to be there for an extended period, then that’s an even more compelling reason. Also have postal service forward your mail to a new address, or hold it for you. You don’t want an over-stuffed mailbox attracting vagrants.
e. One thing the insurance company may bring up is contractors, cleaners, and other vendors to do the necessary repair/cleanup work. Be extremely skeptical of any vendors recommended to you by your insurance company. This is the fox watching the henhouse. I will teach you how to deal with finding/choosing vendors in a later section.