losing your home to a fire

5 Ways You Can Prepare for a House Fire

What kind of morbid person would write a blog about preparing for a disaster in your home?  I’m not an insurance agent, an actuary, a pyro, or anyone that would make money off your misfortune. I am speaking from experience.

4 years ago, this happened to us:

Photo Taken by Chris Gerwick
Ours is the one with the flames in the roof.

You can’t really plan for bad things to happen. But you can do your best to prevent them, and ensure that you’re better prepared to handle them if they do. We were prepared in some ways, but I wish we had done more of these things ahead of time.

    1. Have adequate insurance

      Of course insurance is one of those things we all hope we never have to use. But when you need it, you are so thankful you have it. If you own your home and don’t have it paid off, your mortgage lender will require you to carry insurance on the structure. If you own your home and have it paid off, but don’t have insurance, WHAT ARE YOU THINKING????  You must be at least a little bit wise with your money, or you wouldn’t have a paid-for home. But if you don’t have insurance, that’s not smart at all. Here’s what you need insured:

      • THE STRUCTURE

        – You must have enough insurance on the home to cover the cost to rebuild the home TODAY. We lived in a brick rowhouse. The keyword to the valuation of that structure was “brick.” Before the fire, we could have sold the house for about $48,000 – 49,000. Our insurance paid us a little more than twice that, because that was what it would have cost if we had rebuilt the structure.

      • THE CONTENTS

        – Whether you own or rent, you need insurance on the contents of your home. Most insurance companies include a percentage for the contents, based off the value of the home, but you can pay for more.

        – Just under 40% of renters carry insurance, while 97% of homeowners are covered.

        Listen. I don’t want to hear excuses about how you can barely afford to pay for rent, let alone insurance. Renters insurance is CHEAP, and you can’t afford NOT to have it! What would you do if you came home to a smouldering house and you were left with nothing but the clothes on your back? That’s exactly what happened to us! In fact, since our oldest son was coming from baseball practice, he didn’t even have a pair of regular shoes to put on.

        In the first week following our fire, I bet we spent about $1,000 on the BARE ESSENTIALS. Easily. Things like toiletries add up so quickly. How many pairs of underwear do you own? Do you even know? That leads me to the next point…

    2. Take Inventory

      This sounds like fun, doesn’t it? I promise it’s even less enjoyable when you have to do it for an insurance claim. Don’t worry. Yes, it takes a little time; but this is pretty painless. At least you can actually open drawers right now and see the contents. If you wait until disaster strikes, you will have a really difficult time remembering the details.

      – Record a video. Simple, right? If a pen and paper just isn’t your style, pull out your phone and hit ‘record.’  {Don’t forget to back up your video!}

      – Pace yourself. You don’t have to do this all in one day, and it is a lot to do. Take your time and go room-by-room.

      – The key is not to forget all of the things – inside closets, drawers, kitchen cabinets, and so on. It all counts, even food in the pantry and that extra toilet paper you keep in the linen closet.

    3. Make sure you have working smoke detectors & test them regularly.

      – Wired ones are most effective, but ANY are better than none.

      – Smoke detectors need to be on every floor of your home, in each bedroom, and outside sleeping areas. For more info, click here.

      – If you haven’t tested your smoke detectors to see if your kids will wake up when they go off, you definitely need to try this. This study revealed that the majority of kids won’t even wake up to a standard smoke alarm going off. We ran this test a while back after watching a video like this – and NONE of our kids woke up. They say that recorded voice alarms work best.

      I recommend these smoke detectors from Amazon. They’re wired, linked, and they provide a voice warning that could help wake kids.

    4. Have a plan in place and practice it with your family

      – Where will you meet?- Remember the fire drills you had in school? Great! Modify that and conduct one at home.

      – Do the kids know how to call 911 and what to say to emergency respondents?

    5. Buy a fireproof, waterproof safe.

      – They’re the perfect place to store important papers, cash, and other valuables.

      – They do work. You just have to use them!

      We had two small safes that we kept under our bed. Both survived the fire. The thing is, we had our taxes done about a month before and left some of the important papers lay on top of our microwave instead of putting them back into the safe when we were done. (Yes, I remember exactly where they were.) Because we lost those papers, we had to take an entire day and go to Harrisburg – our state capitol – to request new birth certificates for all of us.

      This is one of the first things we purchased after the fire. If you don’t have a safe that is large enough for your most important items, I highly recommend getting one NOW.

 

This is almost exactly like the safe we have now. It’s a great size for storing all your important papers and valuables!

Taking these additional steps will make sure you are extra-prepared:

  • Keep fire extinguishers in your kitchen, near your electrical panel, and close to any wood stoves or heaters. Test them so you are familiar with how to use them.  You definitely don’t want to use it for the first time during an emergency.
  • Have your heating system and chimney checked and maintained at least once a year. Chimney fires are common, but most are completely preventable.
  • Don’t leave the room while cooking.
  • Don’t leave space heaters running when you’re not home.

    Fun fact: Cooking equipment is the leading cause of fires, followed by heating equipment.

  • Close bedroom doors while sleeping.
  • If you’re building a new-construction home or doing an extensive renovation, consider having sprinklers installed; especially if you’re in an area prone to wildfires.
Photo taken by Chris Gerwick Source Mifflintown Hose Co. No. 1
Seeing flames in what was our daughter’s bedroom window makes me feel sick

I thank God every time I think about our fire, and how it could have gone.

We weren’t home. No one was hurt. None of our neighbors were hurt. We had insurance. We had family who could take us in afterward while we searched for a new home and then built our house. It could have ended so differently.

I hope this changes the way you think about preparing your home and family for the possibility of a house fire. If just one of these things things is able to change the outcome for someone, writing this will have been worth it to me.

4 thoughts on “5 Ways You Can Prepare for a House Fire”

  1. Hope people take this advice to heart you do need insurance. We had a family member some years back that lost everything in a house fire. turned out they had 0 insurance took them years to get back on there feet.

    Like

    1. Bill, I strongly agree! There were over 20 homes involved in our fire, and it broke my heart to hear the stories of those who didn’t have insurance. There were both renters and homeowners. The difference in our experiences was night and day!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s