Three years ago, our family endured and survived a house fire. We woke in the middle of the night in a houseful of smoke, with 4 kids throughout. It was horrifying. But, it is amazing what you learn in a tragedy. Some things, you learn in the blink of an eye – lessons your mind will never erase. Others, you learn over time. If you have just endured a house fire, or know someone who has, here are some key things that can be expected…and hopefully even help!
Insurance is AWESOME!
Nothing is more sickening than standing in front of your burning house wondering what kind of Insurance policy you have. If you don’t know your policy, I really encourage you to read it. We never expected to have a fire, so I never read the policy carefully. Fortunately, Insurance covered everything and then some. In fact, in the process, we learned most people make money on a house fire with insurance. Still, it is an inconvenience beyond measure and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone!
Regardless, the day after the fire (which happened at night) a insurance person met us at the house and gave us a huge check and told us she had booked us at a nearby long term hotel. They took care of everything and it was unspeakably nice because you are a wreck after a fire. Your mind is going 1000 directions when you and your children are displaced without notice.
Claims Go On Forever
I am certain this varies by policy, but there is definitely a time frame you can no longer claim damage based on your incident. Our policy was 2 years, and honestly, that is about how long claims went on – though I would guess 60% were in the first 3 months.
You have your home expenses claims, cleaning…things they tried to clean and couldn’t, your appliances, food, clothing, carpets, the restructure, the codes, depreciation figured etc, etc. In the claims process, the homeowner becomes an ace by necessity! In fact, I am not even sure I understood what an insurance claim really was till we had a fire. But it was baptism by fire!
In heat, glass breaks. Though our house fire was localized, all throughout the house, picture frames and mirrors cracked. That was certainly something I didn’t expect.
I think I always knew that heat expanded. But what surprised me was that a fire that started in the kitchen and was maintained in the kitchen, melted candles in our bedroom (furthest from the kitchen.) Heat expands in the air and a fire in one place, though contained, will omit heat so hot wax can melt rooms away.
Emergency Response Units
A neighbor called 911. And though I am sure the fire department was there in 5 minutes, it seemed like hours. When you are watching flames engulf your home and spread, every second is like an eternity.
I wondered, later how long it would have taken the response team if we didn’t live close to a fire station. I can’t imagine watching my home burn…for hours, just waiting with no help on the scene.
Another thing about the response team, that surprised me was that one of their first questions was, “Are there any pets in the house?” Nice.
Smoke is Never Really Gone
It truly is amazing that a construction crew and a great contractor can get that smell out of your house! That is, at least until it rains. The humidity always has a way of bringing back that familiar smell no matter how much carpet, insulation or furniture is replaced.
Negotiating with the Contractor
There is so much room to negotiate with a contractor in an insurance claim. You have all of this money and can allocate it any way you want. It is awesome. You can say, “I think we will go with the cheaper fixtures and get the better countertop. Can we do that?” Of course, you can!
More than a Baby Monitor
After our fire we were placed in a hotel, with adjoining suites. It isn’t home and something about it just doesn’t seem safe. Your kids are next door and it’s just an eerie feeling being somewhere other than home after a tragedy. But our remodel took months. So, we were there, for better or worse. That is when I learned that a baby monitor has a thousand uses!
My sister had a toddler at the time and still had her monitor. So, we put it in the kids room at night, though they were older. You can hear them…they can ask for help…etc. It made me feel safe knowing I could hear them.
It has been years since our fire, and yet two times a week at least, someone in our home swears they smell fire…burning somewhere. The phrase, “Do you smell that?” is super common to anyone who has been woken in the night by a fire emergency, I would almost guarantee it!
We have six people in our immediate family and to this day, two are somewhat haunted by the fire. They wake in the night and check the house. They have bad dreams. It’s simply more traumatic than anyone gives it credit…a fire.
Response in Crisis
I always thought I was the “cool” one in my marriage. I really believed I would handle myself beautifully in a time of crisis. But to this day, I am shocked at how ridiculous I acted the night we woke up in a house burning. I cannot even begin to describe how un-cool I was – just embarrassing. I was the picture of everything you shouldn’t do. My husband on the other hand, had all four kids out of the house before I was even out of the bedroom. He was a gallant, level headed, fast acting hero in crisis. His reaction and mine were both a surprise.
When the things you work for are gone in a flash, it helps you truly understand that they were just “things” all along. Sure, some cost more and required more time and effort to obtain or achieve, but in the end, it is just stuff. You do consider those who have nothing. You consider what you truly need – and that is people…your family. Love has a way of shining brighter in tragedy and the hearts of men are worth so much more than anything time or money bought.
At some point in the after-effects of crisis, you do reflect and wonder, “why me?” It isn’t always related to the tragedy itself, but often, how you emerged safe and stayed out of harms way? For my family, we know that what alerted us were sounds in the kitchen (aluminum trashcan popping under heat) woke my 4 year old daughter up and she came into our bedroom scared, saying, “Fire.” But what woke her up? If it were not for that little girl, all of us could have been in serious trouble.
It forces you to consider that supernatural powers may be at work, and there may be a plan for your life. At least, it did for us. And something about that, makes you feel a little…chosen. So, of course, we thanked God and I have thanked him so many times since that night, for ensuring the safety of us all.
Over and over we are told that community matters, if we are paying attention. But in suburbia, it’s amazing how singular you can live and sometimes, it is like you have no community at all. But when tragedy strikes, you realize the community was there all along, you just may have never acted like you needed them.
After our fire, the daycare my twins were attending all make cards (100’s of cards) and took up a toy collection. Our Elementary age kids did a monetary collection and featured their classes in the newspaper because they raised so much and my kids felt so happy. And of course, our family came to our aid in more ways than 10.
Toys may seem last on the priority list, (and it is last on the insurance list, too.) But stuck in a hotel room for months with 4 kids and no toys would have been murder! All those new things the daycare and school gave us took the kids minds off the drama, and allowed us to play in the middle of what could have been a very unsettling time for them.
Unexpected tragedy is a strange thing. I just don’t think anyone knows how they are going to respond. You can’t predict what people around you will do for you. You truly don’t know how little your things really matter, or how seriously that event will burn in your memory….so many things.
But one thing I do know is that we always check the batteries in our fire alarm (ours had died…in the one fire alarm in the house.) When we look at houses, it is one of the first things we look for: fire alarms being up to code. And, when we smell fire…we act fast. Some things life teaches us, make just a strong enough impression, our lives are different from that moment on for better or worse. If we smart, we focus on the “better” and know there isn’t a thing in the world that will change the past.