Preparedness Corner
October 2003
By Paul Vircsik

Hi Neighbors,

Over the years I have written about fires, fire safety, planning a new home, its placement and just plain how to live safely in a fire rich environment.  However, I can’t think of any months that have addressed what to do after a fire.  Inside or out, any fire can be devastating both physically and mentally.  Sometimes more mentally due to the fact that emotions are running so high.  Adrenalin supplies are depleted, nothing looks the same as it did before it burned, feelings of incredible sorrow or anger, and the exhaustion that usually sets in.  So here are some of the more salient points on the subject.

Preparing for a fire can help relieve some of the anxiety of exactly what was lost.  Filming or pictures of the outside and inside including descriptions of what is on the film will document your belongings for future use.  Centrally locating items of value and papers that are not on display by coordinates (so many feet from this corner and that corner of the house) will aid in location after a fire.  Placing them in a fire resistant container or room will also help their survivability.  I have seen a few homes on the ranch that have solid cement walled rooms for mechanical purposes.  They might also be looked at for valuable possession storage.  These rooms can take a lot of heat and weight should the house come down on top of it.  Store the original film in a different location and always have a copy placed elsewhere.  Let someone you trust know where you hid it in case you cannot be found.  In that location, have contact numbers of places you go or people you might be staying with.  If you can’t be found or your location verified, searches may be needlessly started for your safety.

Okay, fire’s over.  First make sure everyone in your party is safe, animals included.  Does someone know where you are? Let them know your status, location and plans.  Help is going to come at a snails pace in your mind.  Take a deep breathe and realize that time is going by slower than you think.  Take account of what you have in your possession and make a plan for getting back to normalcy.  Plans like this should be thought of ahead of time, its called preparedness.  There are web sites that have fire information and after fire information.  Check some of them out and use what you feel worthy.  Then practice what you’ve learned to engrain the brain.

Gaining entry to your home after a fire may be delayed in a forest fire because the fire though already passed in intensity may still be active in the area.  Letting civilians into that area places fire service personnel at great risk accounting for everyone’s whereabouts so it is normally forbidden.  Allow for a few days before going back to your property.  Being truthful in what you write or say to the authorities will help them determine your trustworthiness.  Telling stories that don’t add up will banish you from the area, as you will never be believable again.  So don’t fib about your home, people or pets left behind to get into the area.  You could cause numerous resources to be wasted chasing your story when they could be used for other efforts.

Before I go further let me say that you can, and most likely will, be held accountable for what you say and do in a fire situation.  You may be billed for resources used on a fire if fault is determined.  You can also be billed or arrested for your conduct.

Insurance.  Boy, I hate those yearly payments, but after a fire is not the time to realize you are under insured.  If you have changed your financial status or placed more kit in your home you might want to review your policy.  There is only two times when you become conscious of how much stuff you own.  When you move or when it is lost.  Make contact early before everyone else does and find out who your contact is, when to expect them (remember a deep breath here as many will need their services) and what they want from you on arrival.  Ask before the fire for the company’s pamphlet on fire losses.

Luckily we are not in town or a major city with easy access to scanner people.  I have witnessed the onslaught of insurance men, repairmen, salvage men, and all the other vultures that descend upon the homeowner in their most delicate time to persuade them to “sign here and we will take care of everything”.  We try to subtly steer them away and tell them to only talk “their” agent.  So beware, they are out there and will show up if they can.

There are many quality companies that can overhaul your home after a fire.  Again, call and find some ahead of time so the victim factor doesn’t come into play when you need them.  A good company will remove the burned products, water and smoke damaged material and make it all better again.  Even with a small room and contents fire, these companies can do a good job in a hurry.  Just be prepared for the place to look worse before it gets better as they ply their trade.

If you want to help or do it yourself, remember that almost everything that is burned is now toxic.  Don the proper precautionary protection, i.e. gloves, mask, snorkel and fins.  Okay, only the first two, and use soap when you’re done.

Losing ones home and irreplaceable valuables to fire is probably number two on the list of most traumatizing experiences you can ever have.  Planning for it ahead of time produces two beneficial items.  A list of what you could lose in a disaster and peace of mind by preparing not to lose them.

See you all soon,

Ps:  Don’t forget, this month is time change and that means its time to change the batteries in all your smoke/co detectors!

Meet the author: Read about Paul Vircsik's background