Steps to take after a building fire


Steps to take after a building fire

Whether you live in a small apartment or a mansion, it is important that you take fire safety seriously. This may mean installing a fire alarm, having a fire safety plan, using fire-resistant building materials, and so on. But even if you are able to do all these, there is still a slim possibility that a fire might still spring up. If that happens, what will you do? While no one prays for a fire accident to happen, it is good we prepare for one. 

Figuring out what to do in a residential fire can be frustrating, stressful, and an overwhelming process, and for good reasons. After a fire, you will have to make a lot of tough decisions. Deciding what to do first is surely going to be a challenge. Read on to find out the steps you should take after a house fire. 

Immediately after a fire

Remain calm 

It is easy to sink into depression, become frustrated or infuriated after a fire. Do all you can to fight these negative emotions. Don’t think much about the properties or the valuables you lost, as they can be replaced. Instead, be grateful that you and your loved ones were able to get out. 

If you are injured 

 If you sustained an injury while trying to get out, or you were hurt by the flames, seek medical attention. Carefully wash wounds with soap and water and bandage it to prevent infections. Quickly replace the bandages if they become damaged or soiled. 

Take care of others 

If you can, take care of other people who are injured. Listen to them carefully, and do whatever you can to make them comfortable. 

Consult the fire personnel before taking action

Do not take any action without first consulting the firemen on ground. Windows and doors may be barricaded or cordoned off with yellow tape. Don’t walk past the tape unless the local authorities say that it is safe to do so. Even after you have been granted permission, you may notice that some part of the structure bears a special color sign, don’t enter until you get to learn what the sign means. 

Dealing with your emotions

Seeing your home burn and your properties destroyed right in front of your eyes can be devastating and may stir up some unanticipated feelings that are just as important to address as a real injury. Everyone is likely going to be upset about the ordeal and may fear that the worst is yet to come. You and your loved ones may feel anger, shock, guilt, or disbelief. Anxiety, memory lapses, and depression are also possible. Family members and loved ones with disabilities or those who speak another language, children, and senior citizens are likely going to need more attention. It is your responsibility as the homeowner to tell them that they are safe and that everything will be ok. This will go a long way in helping them recover quicker. 

Below are some important steps you can take to meet your emotional needs, and that of your family members around. 

 Drink plenty of water 

Encourage everyone to drink plenty of water and to get some rest. Water doesn’t just hydrate us; it also boosts our brain function and improves our mood. 

Find a safe place to stay

Since your home will be uninhabitable, at least for a while, after the fire, it is wise you find a place for you and your family members to stay as quickly as possible. If you have an accommodating friend around, you can go there and spend the night. If not, then you should look for a good hotel or motel that can accommodate the needs of your family members. 

Stay away from the media for a while 

Watching the remains of your home on the television, or hearing about the incident on the radio or reading about it in the newspaper is only going to make you feel depressed and frustrated. Don’t do that to yourself. Stay away from the media until things die down. 

Focus on the positive 

It is easy to be carried away by negative emotions that would dampen your mood and re-open your healing wound. The best course of action is to focus on the positive. Be grateful that you and your loved ones were able to make it out alive or that nobody got hurt. 

Recognize your own feeling 

Focus on your own feelings. If you are the head of the family you are likely going to spend most of your time trying to make everyone feel better. Set some time aside to attend to your personal needs. See, you don’t have to act like the fire incident isn’t a big deal. Realize that you are human, and address your emotional needs. 

Return to your normal routine 

This is one of the most effective ways to ease tension and make everyone move on quicker. So, if you normally go for a run in the morning, then you should start doing that again. This may hasten your recovery and reduce tension. 

Reach out for help 

If you feel you are losing it and cannot keep things together, then you should seek help from trusted friends and family members. Don’t think that you have to go through everything on your own, reach out to people that can help you. You won’t regret it. 

Do something fun 

Take your family to the park, go shopping, read a book you like, hang out with friends, play a fun game with your family, do anything that can to improve your mood and that of your family. Keep in mind that you don’t have to go to a super expensive restaurant or spend a lot of money to have a good time, just do something you enjoy that won’t cost you a fortune, as you will spend a lot of money in the future to replace damaged properties. 

Recovery may take some time 

You may have the notion that things are going to bounce back to the way they were few days after the fire. Well, the truth is that it probably won’t. Recovery usually takes some time. So, sit back, keep your expectations low and watch as things fall back into place. 

Seek professional help

If you need additional support or you observe something in your family members that makes you worried, contact a counselor as quickly as possible. 

Helping pets

Just like humans, pets need care and attention. After a fire incident, it is important that you take steps to help your pet recover and get back to its old self. Below are some things you could do to help you pet speed up their recovery process. 

Comfort them 

Figure out ways to comfort your pet and make them feel better. If you have a dog, for example, try taking it for a walk or playing with it. Regardless of what you do, try to handle your pets calmly and carefully. 

Send them away for a while 

Pets may react to a disaster in a strange and unusual way. They may become upset, spray urine, bit and scratch furniture, defecate on the floor, and so on. To help them calm down, you have to give them care and attention. If that doesn’t work, try leaving them with a trusted family member, boarding facility, veterinarian or friend while you are trying to figure things out. As you likely know, animals are inquisitive, so if you bring them back to a damaged home, chances are, they will get injured. 

Visit them regularly 

If you left your pet at a friend, it is important that you visit regularly and take them out to play with them. During your visit, speak to them calmly and give them extra attention. Doing this, will help them recover quicker. 

Food and water 

Ensure that your pet has plenty of water and are fed their normal diet. If your pets are well fed, they are likely going to remain calm. 

Toys 

You can use toys to cheer your pets up and make them happy. If need be, use an unsoiled blanket or clothing to comfort them. 

Check your residence

Keep the following tips in mind when returning to your damaged home to inspect it, and ascertain the level of damage caused by the flames. 

Consult the authorities

Before going to your home, consult the fire department to see if your residence is safe to enter. Don’t walk past barricades, color-coded sign or colored tapes, until you are instructed to do so or you are sure what the sign means. 

Don’t go with your family

Don’t take your family with you during the first inspection of your damaged home, as the site may be unsafe. Also, seeing the damages may upset them. If you have kids, leave them with a trusted friend or relative while you inspect your home. 

Check the exterior 

Before you enter the building, keep your eyes peeled for any hazard that may be around. Look for damaged gas lines, loose power lines, holes in the roof, cracks in the foundation, and other damages. If you see any life-threatening hazard outside, it may be unsafe for you to enter. Well, if that is the case, then you should wait for clearance from professional inspectors before entering. On the other hand, if there is no visible damage outside, then you can proceed inside too. Open the door carefully, if it doesn’t open or it is stuck, don’t force it to open, as it may be preventing a collapse. Find another way in. 

What to wear 

Wear protective clothing before entering the building. The last thing you want is to sustain an injury during your visit. Below is a list of things you should wear. 

  • Boots or rubber-soled shoes 
  • Long pants 
  • Hard hat
  • Dust masks
  • Goggles 
  • Long-sleeved shirt  

If you smell gas

If you hear a hissing noise or perceive even the slightest odor of propane, leave the property as quickly as possible and call the fire department. Don’t attempt to turn off the gas unless you are instructed to do so by the fire department.  If you are told to turn it off, use the right tool at the valve, as well as the outside meter. If you aren’t able to do this, then contact a professional to help you turn it off. Keep in mind that when natural gas like propane is turned off at the main valve, it should be turned back on by a professional to ensure that it is done the right way and the proper sequence is followed.

Check for smoke 

Carefully inspect every part of your property for smoke and embers. 

Beware of animals 

After the fire, animals like rodents, insects, spiders, and snakes may enter your home. As you inspect it, use a stick or your foot to make a loud sound to give notice that you are around. As you probably know, animals don’t like confrontation and will move away if they know you are close by. 

Unstable building parts and objects

 Because of the damage, furniture and building parts may become unstable. Be cautious when close to them. Don’t lean against, hold or push damaged building parts as they may be unstable. Check the ceilings for signs of damage and sagging. If the ceiling is sagging, chances are water from rain or the fire hose has entered. You can use a stick to poke holes in the ceiling and let the water drain out. Be careful when doing this so that the entire ceiling doesn’t collapse. 

Make sure you check the floors for signs of sagging as well. The damage caused by water, perhaps, from the fire hose could cause certain parts of the floor to collapse when pressure is exacted on it. Don’t walk on sagging or unsteady floors. If only a small part of the floor is damaged, use a strong board that is about 8 to 12 inches to cover the damaged area. 

Open the windows

Open doors and windows if the weather is dry, to increase ventilation. 

If power is out 

Use a flashlight to inspect your property if the power is out. Never use open flames like a candle to serve as alternative lighting. Check all appliances in your home for water damage before turning them on or using them. 

Temporary repairs

Before the major renovation starts, you can make some temporary repairs like bracing weak walls, covering holes, removing debris, and so on. Take clear photographs of the damage, and keep the receipts of everything you bought. You may need them in the future to substantiate insurance claims. 

Inspect your utility systems 

 Check each phone in your home to see if they are working. If they have been knocked down, pick them up and listen for a dial tone to know if they have telephone service. 

If they aren’t working or are severely damaged, unplug them and contact the telephone company to report the problem. 

Inspect your Electrical system 

Be very cautious when inspecting the electrical system of your damaged home. If you see sparks, or open wires, quickly turn off the electricity. If not, leave the power on. 

Depending on the extent of the fire damage, you may have to turn off the circuit breaker or fuse box to ensure safety. If there is a pool of water close to the circuit breaker, use a stick to turn it off without stepping on the water. If it is impossible for you to reach the fuse box, contact a professional technician to help you out. 

Don’t forget to inspect the panel box to see if any breakers have tripped. If a breaker or two have tripped, chances are, their wirings are damaged. Don’t turn on the tripped breaker, instead, turn them off and use a piece of tape to mark the ones that tripped when you came. Have a professional electrician determine if there is an electrical problem and address them. During the restoration process, turn off the breakers for the room you won’t be working on only. 

Use a flashlight to inspect the various fuses to see if they are working properly. Remove and replace the broken fuse. 

 Heating system 

Consult a heating and plumbing specialist to help you inspect your heating system to see if it is damaged, and repair it if need be. If some equipment in your home is connected to a heating tank, quickly turn off its valve until you are sure that it isn’t damaged and is working properly. 

Plumbing

 Don’t use sinks, toilets, and showers if you suspect that your sewage lines are damaged or blocked. Call a plumber to help ascertain the level of damage, and fix it. Turn off the main water valve if water pipes are severely damaged. 

Inspecting household items

Common household items like cleaning products can cause toxic fumes that can do serious damage to health. So, if you smell an offensive or noxious odor, leave the area and wait for the smell to die down. If the spilled chemicals pose a health risk, then you should contact a professional cleaning company. On the other hand, if spilled chemicals are not harmful, then you can clean it on your own. Make sure you put on rubber gloves, a nose mask, and other protective clothing when cleaning. Dispose of the rags used for cleaning as well the chemicals appropriately. 

Food and beverages 

 Dispose of food and beverages that were exposed to the smoke and heat. Food in the freezer can be used if it is still frozen or have ice crystals on it. 

Repairs 

 Keep the following tips in mind if you are going to be doing major or minor repairs on your own or using power tools and equipment. 

Safety 

Safety should be at the top of your priorities when repairing your damaged home. Try to foresee potential dangers, and think of ways to scale through them. 

Protect yourself

Make sure you wear protective equipment like gloves, goggles, among others when using power tools. Wear long pants and long sleeves to protect your skin from the various hazards on the site. 

Keep kids away 

It is best not to bring your kids to the vicinity of your damaged home especially when you are making repairs. If for some reason, you have to bring them with you, instruct them to stay away from power equipment. 

Damaged locks 

Remove stuck or damaged locks. If you are having a hard time doing this, try squirting a small amount of machine oil through the keyhole. 

Removing smoke odor 

After the fire, your home is likely going to have a strong smoke odor, below are some tips to help you remove it. 

Cleaning products 

Do you know that there are cleaning products designed specifically to remove strong odors in clothing and fabrics? Head to the mall in your area and get some of them. Be sure to check if they are suitable for clothing. Check the label or how-to-use guides that come with it to learn how to get the most out of it. 

 TSP 

TSP which stands for trisodium phosphate is a strong cleaning agent you can opt for. Since it is a caustic substance, you must use it with care and keep it out of the reach of kids and pets. Make sure you follow the safety instructions that came with it. 

Follow instructions 

To get the most out of any cleaning products, you have to religiously follow the manufacturer instructions. If you can’t find a good cleaning product to remove the smoke from your clothing do the following. 

  • Use cold water and the laundry detergent you normally use. 
  • Add pure vanilla extract. 
  • This solution can also be used to remove smoke odor on washable furniture and certain surfaces.

Cleaning Kitchen Utensils

Wash pots, pans, and other kitchen utensils with warm soapy water. Rinse thoroughly and polish them with a fine-powder cleaner before storing them. An easy way to polish brass and copper utensils is by using salt and vinegar solution to wipe it. 

 Leather 

Cleaning leather goods is pretty straight forward. All you got to do is use a damp cloth to clean it thoroughly, and then a dry cloth to dry it. Stuff shoes, bags, and purses with newspapers to retain their original shape. 

When to repaint 

Only repaint when you are100% sure that the walls and ceilings are dry. 

Dealing with mold and mildew 

An effective way to reduce mildew and mold growth is by wiping affected areas with a mixture of water and liquid household bleach. Before you do this, test a small area with the bleach solution to see if it discolors it. Test by carefully wiping a small area with the beach solution you plan to use and check it after 24 hours. 

When to hire a professional

Keep in mind that you may not be able to address all the damages caused by the fire on your own. So, feel free to consult a professional to help you out. 

Rebuilding

Keep the following tips in mind if a large part or your entire property was damaged by the fire and need to be rebuilt. 

Do your research before hiring a contractor 

While you have the freedom to pick any contractor to rebuild your damaged building, you need to keep in mind that if you pick the wrong one, your home won’t be 100% safe to live in. Before choosing a contractor, it is wise you do some research to see if they are reputable and can handle your project. An easy way to do this is by checking out their website. When interviewing them, ask about their experience level, their qualifications, and previous projects. 

Make sure the contractor you opt for, obtain a building permit and strictly follow the building electrical and fire code for your area. 

 Installing fire suppressing equipment 

You should consider installing an automatic sprinkler system in your home during the reconstruction process. As you probably know, it is super expensive to install sprinklers after construction. To save cost, take advantage of the reconstruction process and install an automatic sprinkler system. 

Smoke alarms 

Ensure that smoke alarms are installed properly and the fire protection code of your area is followed. Smoke detectors should be installed inside every sleeping room and outside sleeping areas. To get the most out of smoke detectors, you have to interconnect them. This way, if one sounds, the others will sound. Only purchase smoke alarms that can be operated by both batteries and power. 

Have a disaster plan 

Since you can’t accurately tell when the next disaster will strike, it is important that you are prepared at all time. Preparing for a fire disaster isn’t solely about using fire-resistant building materials. It also involves having an escape plan and stocking emergency supplies. If you are prepared, you will know exactly what to do in the event of a fire. 

Replacing valuables 

If important documents where damage in your house fire, you need to take steps to get them back. You will have to contact a range of organizations to ask for a replacement. Below are some documents you should replace first. 

  • Driving license 
  • Birth, death, and marriage certificates
  • Passports 
  • Divorce papers 
  • Vehicle registration 
  • Social security payments 
  • Income tax records 
  • Property deeds and titles 

Dealing with your insurance company

After a fire disaster, homeowners usually look to their insurance for relief. Below are some tips to keep in mind when interacting with your insurance company. 

File your claim 

Don’t wait for everything to settle down before reporting your case to the insurance company. As you probably know, homeowners are required to report their losses within a reasonable period of time after the incident. Keep in mind that you don’t have to visit your insurance company in person to comply with this. You can comply by sending an email or calling your agent. After you have done this, you are likely going to be asked to submit a “Proof of loss claim”. All you got to do here is to itemize your losses. 

If you don’t take prompt action and notify your insurance company, it is likely going to take a while before they send an adjuster. 

Be organized 

 You need to be super organized when dealing with an insurance company. Don’t overlook or take anything for granted. Emails, calls, and letters are important evidence you will need if you and your insurance company differ in the future, perhaps about who said what and when. Make sure you take notes during every call you make. Keep everything from invoices, bills, to contract of repairs, and permits in a safe place. Don’t give any original document to your insurance company whether it is an invoice or a bid, make a copy and give it to them. 

Get an advance

If the fire damage is serious, you may not have the chance to collect basic necessities like clothes you will wear to work, toothbrush, and so on. Your homeowners’ policy will surmount for the cost of purchasing these items. See, you don’t have to go through the ordeal of filing a claim and having it approved to get the money you need to replace your basic necessities. All you got to do is call your insurance company and ask for an advance. Ask them to send someone to bring the check to the place you are staying. Keep the receipts for everything you bought and be reasonable. If you lost a polo and some khakis, don’t head out to buy an expensive suit (You will end up paying the difference in the future). Set time aside to carefully study your policy. 

Final note 

Residential fires can not only lead to physical injuries but also emotional ones that may linger for a long time. Losing a home to a fire can be devasting, to say the least. Children and adolescent can react in different ways like developing anxiety, having sleeping disorders, and nightmares just to name a few. As a homeowner, it is your responsibility to help everyone establish habits that are based on the tips discussed above as you gradually reconstruct your home. Of course, the path to recovery isn’t going to be easy, but applying the tips discussed in this article will go along way in helping you, and your loved ones recover quicker.

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