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What to do if a Fire Strikes...
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The First 24 Hours If You are Insured If You are Not Insured
Valuing Your Property
Replacement of Valuable Documents and Records
A Word About Fire Department Operations
*Note: This information is also available via the Internet at www.usfa.fema.gov
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 who 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 actions may be needed in the future while others will be on going. The purpose of this information is to give you the assistance needed to assist you 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 or the Salvation Army, to help with your immediate needs, such as:
other essential items
Contact your insurance agent/company.
Do not enter the damaged site. Fires can rekindle from hidden, smoldering remains.
Normally, the fire department will see that utilities (water, electricity and natural gas)
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 departments 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 driver’s licenses and Social Security cards
eyeglasses, hearing aids or other prosthetic devices
valuables, such as credit cards, bank books, cash and jewelry
There are many people/entities that should be notified of your relocation, including:
your insurance agent/company
your mortgage company (also inform them of the fire)
your family and friends
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 how much you paid for the items.
If You Are Not Insured
Your recovery 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
department of social services
state or municipal emergency services office
non-profit crisis counseling centers
Valuing Your Property
You will encounter different viewpoints 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
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 over 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.
Be sure to request an estimate of cost for the work. Before any company is hired
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 or repair subcontractors
storing repaired items until needed
Replacement Of Valuable Documents And Records
Here’s 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.
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
Passports Passport service
Birth, death and marriage certificates Bureau of Records in the appropriate state
Divorce papers Circuit court where decree was issued
Social Security or Medicare cards Local Social Security office
Credit cards The issuing companies, as soon as possible
Titles to deeds Records department of the locality in which 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
Prepaid burial contract Issuing company
Animal registration papers Humane Society
Mortgage papers Lending institution
Professional fire and water damage restoration businesses may be the best source
of cleaning and restoring your personal belongings. Companies offering this service
can be located in the phone directory.
For plaster and dry wall- do not use water to clean! Use a DRY CHEMICAL (PET) SPONGE and wipe the walls down completely. This will remove the soot from the surfaces. After the soot has been removed you will have to re-paint and seal the walls and ceiling surfaces.
For wood materials, use Murphy’s Oil Soap mixed with water to clean the surfaces.
Clothes may need to be dry cleaned, or professionally cleaned to restore these items.
When complete with clean up you will have to rent an OZONE machine which will remove the smoke smell from the home. This process may take several days.
An effective way to remove mildew from clothing is to wash the fresh stain with
soap and warm water, rinse, and then dry in the sun. If the stain has not disappeared,
use lemon juice and salt or a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach.
Your pots, pans, flatware, etc., should be washed with soapy water, rinsed and then
polished with a fine-powdered cleaner. You can polish copper and brass with special
polish, salt sprinkled on a piece of lemon, or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar
Don’t use appliances that have been exposed to water or steam until you have a
service representative check them. This is especially true of electrical appliances.
In addition, steam can remove the lubricant from some moving parts.
If the fire department turned off your gas or power during the fire, call the electric
or gas company to restore these services - do not try to do it yourself.
Wash your canned goods in detergent and water. Do the same for food in jars.
If labels come off, be sure you mark the contents on the can or jar with a grease pencil.
Do not use canned goods when the cans have bulged or rusted.
Do not refreeze frozen food that has thawed.
To remove odor from your refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a solution
of baking soda and water, or use one cup of vinegar or household ammonia to one
gallon of water. Baking soda in an open container or a piece of charcoal can also be
placed in the refrigerator or freezer to absorb odor.
Rugs and Carpets
Rugs and carpets should be allowed to dry thoroughly. Throw rugs can be cleaned
by beating, sweeping, or vacuuming, and then shampooing. Rugs should be dried as
quickly as possible - lay them flat and expose them to a circulation of warm, dry air.
A fan turned on the rugs will speed drying. Make sure the rugs are thoroughly dry.
Even though the surface seems dry, moisture remaining at the base of the tufts can
quickly cause the rug to rot. For information on cleaning and preserving carpets,
call your carpet dealer or installer or a qualified carpet cleaning professional.
Leather and Books
Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth. Stuff purses and shoes with
newspaper to retain shape. Leave suitcases open. Leather goods should be dried
away from heat and sun. When leather goods are dry, clean with saddle soap.
Rinse leather and suede jackets in cold water and dry away from heat and sun.
Wet books must be taken care of as soon as possible. The best method to save wet
books is to freeze them in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer will remove the
moisture without damaging the pages.
If there will be a delay in locating such a freezer, then place them in a normal freezer
until a vacuum freezer can be located. A local librarian can also be a good resource.
Locks and Hinges
Locks (especially iron locks) should be taken apart and wiped with oil. If locks
cannot be removed, squirt machine oil through a bolt opening or keyhole, and work
the knob to distribute the oil. Hinges should also be thoroughly cleaned and oiled.
Walls, Floors and Furniture
To remove soot and smoke from walls, furniture and floors, use a mild soap or detergent
or mix together the following solution:
4 to 6 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate
1 cup household cleaner or chlorine bleach
1 gallon warm water
Wear rubber gloves when cleaning with this solution. Be sure to rinse your walls
and furniture with clear warm water and dry thoroughly after washing them with this solution.
Wash a small area at one time, working from the floor up. Then rinse the wall with clear
water immediately. Ceilings should be washed last.
Do not repaint until walls and ceilings are completely dry.
Your wallpaper can also be repaired. Use a commercial paste to repaste a loose edge
or section. Contact your wallpaper dealer or installer for information on wallpaper cleaners.
Washable wallpaper can be cleansed like any ordinary wall, but care must be taken not
to soak the paper. Work from bottom to top to prevent streaking.
Do not dry your furniture in the sun. The wood will warp and twist out of shape.
Clear off mud and dirt.
Remove drawers. Let them dry thoroughly so there will be no sticking when you replace them.
Scrub wood furniture or fixtures with a stiff brush and a cleaning solution.
Wet wood can decay and mold, so dry thoroughly. Open doors and windows for good ventilation.
Turn on your furnace or air conditioner, if necessary.
If mold forms, wipe the wood with a cloth soaked in a mixture of borax dissolved in hot water.
To remove white spots or film, rub the wood surface with a cloth soaked in a solution
of 1/2 cup household ammonia and 1/2 cup water. Then wipe the surface dry and polish
with wax or rub the surface with a cloth soaked in a solution of 1/2 cup turpentine
and 1/2 cup linseed oil. Be careful - turpentine is combustible.
You can also rub the wood surface with a fine grade steel wool pad dripped in liquid
polishing wax, clean the area with a soft cloth and then buff.
Handle burned money as little as possible. Attempt to encase each bill or portion
of a bill in plastic wrap for preservation. If money is only half-burned or less
(if half or more is still in tact), you can take the remainder to your regional
Federal Reserve Bank for replacement. Ask your bank for the nearest one.
Or you can mail the burned or torn money by "registered mail, return receipt requested" to:
Department of the Treasury
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Office of Currency Standards
P.O. Box 37048
Washington, DC 20013
Mutilated or melted coins can be taken to your regional Federal Reserve Bank
or mailed by "registered mail, return receipt requested" to:
P.O. Box 400
Philadelphia, PA 19105
If your U.S. Savings Bonds have been destroyed or mutilated,
you must obtain Department of Treasury Form PD F 1048 (I)
from your bank or www.ustreas.gov and mail to:
Department of the Treasury
Bureau of Public Debt
Saving Bonds Operations
P.O. Box 1328 Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328
Check with an accountant, tax consultant or the
Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about special benefits for people
with limited financial needs after a fire loss.
A WORD ABOUT FIRE DEPARTMENT OPERATIONS
Q. Why are windows broken or holes cut in the roof?
As a fire burns, it moves upward then outward. Breaking the windows
and/or cutting holes in the roof (called ventilation) slows the damaging
outward movement, helps remove blinding smoke that obscures the actual fire,
and enables firefighters to fight the fire more efficiently.
The result of this action is less damage to the structure in the long run.
Q. Why are holes cut in walls?
This is done so that the fire department is absolutely sure that the fire is completely
out, and that there is no fire inside the walls or other hidden places.
Q. Is it possible to obtain a copy of the fire report?
In most localities, a fire report is a public document and is available at the fire
department or fire marshal’s office
Notes & Information
United States Fire Administration
16825 South Seton Avenue
Emmitsburg, Maryland 21727
Ph. (301) 447-1000
The following checklist serves as a quick reference and guide for you to follow after a fire strikes.
1. Contact your local disaster relief service, such as The Red Cross, if you need temporary housing, food and medicines.
2. If you are insured, contact your insurance company for detailed instructions on protecting the property, conducting inventory and contacting fire damage restoration companies. If you are not insured, try contacting private organizations for aid and assistance.
3. Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter. Be watchful of any structural damage caused by the fire.
4. The fire department should see that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself.
5. Conduct an inventory of damaged property and items. Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made.
6. Try to locate valuable documents and records. Refer to information on contacts and the replacement process inside this brochure.
7. If you leave your home, contact the local police department to let them know the site will be unoccupied.
8. Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss. The receipts may be needed later by the insurance company and for verifying losses claimed on income tax.
9. Notify your mortgage company of the fire.
10. Check with an accountant or the Internal Revenue Service about special benefits for people recovering from fire loss.