After a Fire Loss: What to expect and how to manage the process

Posted in: Personal Insurance

Image of a wooden house on PSA Insurance and Financial Services' website

The National Fire Protection Association reports that a fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the United States every 20 seconds. One in five of those calls is for a building fire. As I discussed in my previous post, preventing a fire in your home and having an escape plan in case one occurs are crucial to your family’s safety. But when fire strikes, having a basic idea of what to do in the aftermath can make the recovery a much less stressful process.

Most people are in shock after a fire and unprepared for recovering from the loss. This helpful checklist from FEMA provides a great overview of the issues you and your family will face after a major fire. Also, regarding your insurance claim, taking the following steps can help streamline and speed up the process.

First, contact your insurance agent right away so you can get the claims process started. And, take pictures of all your damaged and undamaged property.

Minor Fire Loss

If your fire was relatively minor, and your claim will not be for a high dollar amount, take pictures of the damaged property then perform emergency repair, such as covering your broken window with plywood, or call a clean-up company like Servpro or ServiceMaster to begin clean up and repair work. By doing this, you can help ensure that further damage doesn’t occur to your property while the claim is being adjudicated, and you are acting in good faith with the claim itself.

Major Fire Loss

In the event of a serious claim or total loss, be prepared for the insurance company to send a cause and origin investigator to the scene. Like the fire department, the insurance company will want to find out how the fire started. As part of their efforts to make sure there is no arson or fraud involved, the insurance company will often investigate your finances and background. This is standard procedure, and the process will be easier for you if you try not to take it too personally — it’s the insurance company’s way of preventing fraud, which in turn helps keep rates affordable.

You will receive a call or visit from the insurance company adjuster, but make sure your adjuster identifies him- or herself as working directly for the company. Document your conversation with the adjuster via email, and make sure you have a clear understanding of what is covered, not covered, and what is expected next, including information he or she will need from you.

In addition, you’ll likely get numerous calls from public adjusters offering to help you prepare your proof of loss and submit your claim. While they can be helpful there is no immediate rush. You should take your time before deciding to go that route. A public adjuster will typically charge 6 to 8 percent of your payout.

If you had a serious fire and the claim will be for a large amount of money, the insurance company will normally give you a draw check to get you back on your feet. They will also pay for additional living expenses to live elsewhere in a similar styled house. From this point on, you should keep all of your receipts and a log of the time and expenses it takes to re-stabilize your life. These can include, for example, the cost to get new credit cards or recovery of old bank records or tax information.

The insurance company first pays you the actual cash value or depreciated value of your property, until you replace it. However, with the new receipts, they will pay the full value for the replacement cost of the items, with no deduction for depreciation. If you are missing time from work, you should document that as well and submit a claim for your hourly lost time. This step will go more smoothly if you can work out an agreement with the adjuster ahead of time.

The good news is, with good preparation, the right coverage, the right insurance company, along with the help of your professional agent, you can rest assured you will be well taken care of and be made whole.

If you have any questions regarding your personal risk management or for more information about preparing for or recovering from a fire loss, please feel free to contact me at