Clearly, homeowners and emergency personnel have the most critical roles to play in securing your home and your loved ones in the event of a fire. However, at HIG, we strongly believe you should expect your local insurance agent to be a hero during this type of disaster as well.
After a fire, your insurance agent should be the one to make sure that your home insurance protection goes into action for you, covering the cost of repairing or replacing damaged property and belongings, and paying for additional living expenses you may incur if you have to vacate your home. However, when there’s a catastrophic loss, your insurance professional’s heroism should go well beyond simply helping you file your claim.
Using a recent and, unfortunately, real-life house fire, the team at HIG would like to illustrate the level of service and expertise your insurance professional should provide. While we never want a homeowner to have to deal with a tragic event like a fire, if you ever have to face such a challenge, we hope that your local insurance agent follows these five best practices and becomes your insurance hero.
Five best practices of an insurance professional in the event a client experiences a house fire
On July 10, 2019, Katherine Quinn, a longtime HIG client, experienced a terrible fire at her Bristol, RI, home. Thankfully, nobody was hurt; however, the damage to her home was quite extensive and it is likely to take close to a year before her home is livable again.
We hope that by sharing this client’s story, it better prepares you for the potential of a home fire event. Plus, we thought it would be beneficial for both homeowners and insurance agents if we shared our best practices for supporting and guiding clients throughout the stages of recovering from such a disaster, beginning with the day of the fire all the way to getting them resettled in their home again.
When you call with an emergency situation like a fire, an insurance “hero” will drop everything to lend not just their professional assistance but also personal support.
When Kathy left her home on July 10th to run to the post office, everything at her residence seemed fine. But, upon her return just a half hour later, she noticed smoke in her living room, which seemed to be coming from the cracks between the wall and the doors to her outside patio. While Kathy was not clear on what exactly was happening or what might be the source of the smoke, it was obvious to her that where there was smoke, there was also probably a fire.
The three steps Kathy took next were exactly what we advise our clients to do should a fire event or any other similar emergency occur at their home:
- Get to a safe place. Kathy left the house and notified the landscaping crew doing work around her home that there was potentially a fire.
- Call 911. Kathy’s next move was to call 911 and report the fire.
- Contact your insurance professional. Once the fire department arrived and confirmed there was a fire in her home, Kathy made one more critical call. She contacted her insurance professional at HIG, Paul Burke.
When Paul got the call from Kathy that there was a fire, he didn’t hesitate; he was on the road to her house immediately.
At HIG, we encourage all our insureds to call us right away should they experience a home fire, so we can provide proactive support immediately. In addition, the longer you wait to reach out to your insurance agent, the slower the claims process can be.
An insurance “hero” will have extensive experience and knowledge and use it to help you understand the situation and the process.
On the way to Kathy’s house, which is about 30 minutes away from the HIG office, Paul checked in with her to see how she was doing. Understandably, she was upset. So, when he asked if the fire was out yet, she wasn’t entirely sure. It looked like the fire department had stopped the fire at that point in time.
But, as he pulled into Kathy’s driveway, Paul, who has been a Swansea, MA, volunteer firefighter since 1974 and also serves as a volunteer EMT in the area, was able to quickly ascertain that the situation was still very serious.
He noted smoke coming out of the kitchen on the first floor and the master bedroom windows on the second floor. He also recognized that the firefighters were putting up ladders to get to the second floor and roof. Based on the activity he was seeing from the outside of the home, and his years of being a firefighter, Paul knew that the fire was still going and would take some time to put out. He also realized that he needed to prepare his client for the extensive damage that the blaze had likely caused to the inside of her home.
Paul was able to provide his client with a variety of insights, including:
- Kathy’s house is a wood structure, and any time you use a flame near wood, there is a good chance a fire will start.
- The reason that neither the landscaper nor Kathy saw any flames – and she only saw smoke – was because the fire had gotten into the walls.
- In this case, the fire probably entered the home by igniting the sill plate, which is a piece of wood that anchors the house framing to its concrete foundation.
- When a fire gets into a home’s walls, the fire will follow the mechanical chases in the wall and move very quickly. In fact, had Kathy been gone from her home another 10 or 15 minutes more, she probably would have lost everything.
- In order to find a fire that is in a home’s walls, firefighters have to chase it down by pulling off shingles and tearing down walls throughout a home. To save Kathy’s home, this was necessary and incredibly hard work, but it also would leave most of her property severely damaged.
When the fire chief came over to Kathy to inform her that the fire had caused quite a bit of damage to her home, thanks to Paul’s ongoing communication with her, she was fairly prepared to hear this report.
The fire chief also reported that the fire appeared to be the result of a landscaping employee getting too close to Kathy’s home while using a propane blowtorch, rather than pesticides, to kill weeds along a brick pathway by her home. On hearing that news, Paul knew it was important to take a picture of the landscaper’s propane tank and burner so that Kathy’s insurance carrier would have documentation of the root cause of the fire and, hopefully, an easier time getting reparations from the responsible party.
In addition, the chief told Kathy that she should call her insurance agent.
Having Paul’s expert perspective and his knowledgeable play-by-play while she stood watching the firefighters try to put out her house fire, gave Kathy some semblance of control in what could have been a completely overwhelming situation.
An insurance “hero” will make sure that the road to recovery begins the day of the fire and expertly help you navigate this process.
Once a house fire is put out, and the fire department leaves a property, a homeowner often thinks they can go back into their home, start cleaning up, and take things out of the debris they want to keep.
But, in the aftermath of a fire, this typically is very far from the truth. A house that has had a fire will not just have damages as a result of the flames and smoke, but also from the water used to put it out.
In the case of Kathy’s house, when Paul took a walk around after the fire was out, it not only had significant smoke damage, there was soot and water in and on everything – walls, furniture, draperies, ceilings, light fixtures, etc.
Even if there were some things Kathy thought she could salvage from the fire, Paul was clear that she should not take anything with her. If she did, then she would risk contaminating any clean environment where she took these items. Paul did make sure to take an abundance of pictures of the property, the house, damaged belongings, and more.
But, what Paul really needed Kathy to focus on now was making some important short-term decisions and taking some key actions that would start the claims and recovery process, including:
- Finding a temporary place to sleep
- Buying some clothes and anything she needed for her personal care (e.g. hairbrush, toothbrush, toothpaste, towels)
- Getting food
- Hiring a reputable contractor to cover up holes in the wall and roof, and to board up broken windows, thereby preventing any further damage from the elements
- Calling her insurance carrier to let them know this was a substantial fire and that they needed to send an adjuster right away
With Paul’s direct assistance, all of these necessary tasks were accomplished relatively quickly. Most importantly, Kathy found a place to stay that evening; a neighbor offered their guest house to her until she could find a long-term solution. In addition, since Kathy’s normal contractor was unavailable, Paul reached out to a local contractor and had him come out to the house that evening to board up windows and cover the holes in the roof.
Sadly, when a fire or other similar event ruins your home, you may get inundated with calls from people or even have strangers come to your home saying they can help you with your immediate clean-up or repair needs. When you are in the midst of a tragedy like this, you are in such a vulnerable state, that you may simply agree to let them do the work, even though they might not be qualified or are overcharging you for the service.
After the contractor had completed his work, and Kathy was settled in her neighbor’s guest house, Paul felt like he’d done everything he could for his client on that day. While he was the last one to leave Kathy’s property on July 10th, he would also be back there the next day to meet with the insurance company’s adjuster and their construction specialist. His top priority was to get Kathy an advance payment on her claim, which she could use towards clothes, food, and other basic needs.
In addition, Paul wanted to be at the house when the cleaning company arrived, so he could make sure the removal of the water would begin immediately. Also, he and Kathy had arranged for an electrician to come to the house to restore temporary power, which would enable the cleaning company to use their equipment and for Kathy to get her alarm system up-and-running again to safeguard some valuables that were still in the home.
When you experience an event like a fire, you may have to evacuate your home and leave everything you own behind for an unexpected amount of time. At HIG, we want you to know that our team will do everything we can to reduce the stressfulness of this situation and help you with as much of the legwork as we can.
Throughout the claims and recovery process, an insurance “hero” will communicate with you frequently.
The day of a fire at your home, you will understandably be in complete disbelief. Even those homeowners who think they’re handling things just fine realize a few days later that they don’t recall everything their insurance professional has told them about the claims and recovery process.
That’s why Paul walked Kathy through the steps more than once, not just on the day of the fire, but throughout the next several weeks. One of the key things Paul went over several times with Kathy was what she could expect from her home insurance policy, including the coverages that applied to this fire event, and what the insurance company was going to pay for, how it would be paid out, and for how long.
He made sure to review this with her on the day of the loss, and the day after, and the day after that. Paul kept returning to this topic until he was certain she was comfortable with the process.
While it shouldn’t take a loss for your insurance professional to help you understand your home insurance coverage, it’s obviously an appropriate time for your agent to walk you through these three relevant coverage areas again:
- Dwelling protection coverage. This area of your policy should pay for the repairs that your home and other attached structures (like a garage or solar panels) require after a fire or other covered peril has hit.
- Personal property coverage. This area of your policy should pay for replacing or repairing all personal items – furniture, clothes, sports equipment, appliances, and more – if ruined in a fire or other named peril.
- Loss of use coverage. This area of your policy should pay for the additional costs associated with relocating yourself and your family while your home is being repaired or rebuilt after a fire or other covered peril.
These are not the only coverage areas in your home insurance policy, but they are the essential ones for your insurance professional to make sure you understand after a home fire.
It’s also important that your insurance agent explain that each of these areas deals with a very distinct part of the recovery process in the aftermath of a fire. As such, each type of coverage has different limits and exclusions, as well as a unique way of being paid out by the insurance company.
At HIG, we know that the details of your insurance policy can be confusing no matter when or how many times we explain them to you, but especially if you have recently been through a traumatic experience like a home fire. For this reason, even a few months after the fire, Paul still fields any questions Kathy may have and regularly updates her on what the insurance company is doing on her behalf.
It’s very important to HIG that our clients understand what will be covered by their home insurance policy in the event of a fire. Hearing this information in the aftermath of such a tragedy can be very comforting to a homeowner, and it allows them to move forward in the recovery process with far less anxiety.
An insurance “hero” will be there for you day in and day out until you have fully recovered.
Twenty-four hours after the fire at her house, one of Kathy’s most pressing needs was to find a long-term place to stay while her home and belongings were being cleaned, salvaged, and repaired over the coming months. Luckily, a friend had a house nearby that was available for rent.
The next step was for Kathy to get a reputable contractor to work on the structure of the house. With winter coming in a few months, it was critical to find a solution sooner rather than later. If construction didn’t start right away, Paul was concerned that cold and inclement weather could disrupt even the best-laid plans.
Once Kathy selected a contractor, and the insurance company agreed to the exterior repairs to the house, the contractor kicked off the project. Repairs to the interior of Kathy’s home will begin as soon as the insurance company agrees to the contractor’s proposal. Fixing the mechanicals will be the next phase of the rebuild project because it will be important to get the heat turned back on in Kathy’s home no later than November 1st. Not only will this prevent her house from freezing, but it will enable the rest of the contractors, like those doing the plastering and sheet-rocking, to comfortably work through the winter on the restoration.
After the first few hectic days of activity at Kathy’s house, Paul continues to work with her to make sure the work is progressing the way she wants it to. He also contacts Kathy frequently to see how she is doing, and if she has any questions or needs anything.
Even then, when she gets back the furniture and clothes that were salvageable from the fire and have been professionally cleaned, Paul will be there. He will want to make sure she is completely satisfied with the results, and if not, then he will add these throw-away items to her insurance claim.
At HIG, we know what it takes to be your insurance hero
For Kathy, July 10, 2019 marked the beginning of a months-long journey to get back into her home. While the rebuild is currently ahead of schedule and Kathy is doing well, until she moves back into her home and the claims and recovery process is 100% complete, Paul will stand by her and be available to help with anything she needs. At HIG, we know what it takes to be your insurance hero.
Then contact the team at HIG today. With 100 years of collective service in the insurance industry, our experienced team provides you access to a wide variety of comprehensive personal and business coverage options, at competitive rates, from the top insurance companies. HIG combines a thorough approach and customized solutions with utmost dedication to customer satisfaction to minimize risks for you, your family, and your business, and increase your peace of mind. We look forward to putting our insurance knowledge to work for you.