Fire Safety Education: "Fire in My Home": Now I Know How It Feels

I have responded to thousands of fires in my career, many times as the person who talks to the people involved and helps them with arrangements after the fire. But I never understood how it “really” feels until I had a fire in my own home. Now, when I...


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Then came making arrangements for the repairs needed to the house. The insurance company provides the funding, but you do all the work, such as selecting a contractor. You are provided a budget and you have to make it work. That includes having items in your home cleaned or replaced. It seemed every night after I got home from work, I was sitting at the dining room table working on paperwork related to the fire.

A few days after the fire, I learned that an inspector from the city would be doing an inspection of my house. I never knew about this because we usually had left the scene and this occurs a week or two later. The inspector ensures that the work needed to have your home rebuilt is up to code. At the same time, the inspector looks to see whether any modifications were done to the home and, if so, that they are up to code and permitted. If not, you could be fined. So if you did some plumbing work or electrical work yourself and you did not have a permit and inspection done on file, you could be fined. I was told by a building inspector friend of mine that if your alterations were the cause of the fire, the fines could be hefty. Lesson here: any future alterations to the house need to be permitted and inspected by the city’s building department.

I never knew about the emotional toll it takes on the family. Many times, I woke to hear my 8-year-old grandson crying in the middle of the night and asking why we had to have a fire. He just wanted to be back home and have it the way it used to be. How many times do we see small children waiting in a car or standing with their family as we put out a fire? Now I know the emotional toll a fire might take and I can tell parents to be prepared.

Monetary impact

We are finally back in our home and life is nearly back to where it was before the fire. Our home was built in 1994. After a fire, it must be rebuilt to the current code, so we have a lot of new features in our home that we did not have before. That work was paid for by the insurance company.

Our insurance rates went up immediately. Before the fire, we never made a claim, so we were eligible for special discounts for being claim free. After the fire, we are no longer claim free, so all the discounts are gone which means we pay higher premiums.

Insurance does not cover all the deposits you have to pay when you are moving. In one day, we paid out nearly $2,000 to move into our rental home and get all the utilities moved. The night after the fire, we stopped at a store to buy a change of clothing, bath soap and the like so we could clean up when we arrived at our hotel room. We spent $500 just on the way to the hotel. These were all unexpected expenditures. I learned it’s a good idea to have an emergency savings account to cover such things. We did receive offers from many support groups, such as the American Red Cross, but we refused and asked them to save it for people who have no insurance. Our total loss to date has been nearly $110,000. We are still finishing paperwork.

After this experience, I fully understand how it feels and know what to tell people. Nearly every week, I am out giving a fire safety talk somewhere in the community and this fire has been the most requested topic. People want to know what to expect and how they can prevent it from happening to them.

Someone once told me if life deals you lemons, make lemonade. That is how I look on my experience. It will help me to deliver the message of preventing fires so no one has to experience what I did. n