Just over a year ago, Brooke Rummonds and her family lost their beloved family home to a freak explosion in an outdoor garbage can that quickly ignited their home and engulfed it in flames. While Brooke and her family (including furry family members) were able to escape to safety, their home was a total loss. With all of the fires currently burning near Fresno and across the West Coast, Brooke took time to sit down and compile a list of the things she wish she’d known, and what she’d want others to know in order to be prepared and cope if they were to ever experience a house fire. The following is her advice.
Note: The tips below mostly relate to homeowners but if you are renters, PLEASE be sure that you have renters insurance so that the contents of your home will be covered. If you don’t, and you lose all of your things in a fire you won’t have any recourse to replace those items & even just the bare necessities add up so quickly.
1. Get a copy of your homeowners insurance policy now, before you’ll ever need it. You can contact your agent that you bought the policy through or the insurance company directly & ask them to email it to you so you’ll always have it handy.
Read every line of that policy and call your agent with any questions at all so that at the end of it, you’re crystal clear on the specifics of your policy. Not all homeowners policies are equal. Do you have updated code coverage? This means that anything to do with any updated building codes that have changed since your house was built will be covered separately by this separate bucket of money. Pro tip: if you don’t already have this coverage, call your agent right now and add it on.
For example, all new residential construction in California as of 2020 is required to have solar, at least enough to run the major appliances and also is required to have an electric car charging outlet in the garage. I’m sure there’s many others but those two stick out for me. Because we had this coverage, those costs won’t come out of our structural coverage bucket when we rebuild.
Another thing is extended dwelling coverage. This is an additional amount of insurance allotted by the insurance company to compensate for a total loss that exceeds the dwelling coverage that’s listed on the insurance policy. For example, lumber has increased in cost a ton in the past couple of months, we’ll likely need to pull from this bucket for stuff like that. I highly recommend adding this to your policy as well. We had no idea that we had these additional coverages but I’m so grateful that we did!
2. If the worst happens and your home is lost or damaged by a fire, call your insurance company immediately. They should quickly send an adjuster out and be able to cut you a check as an advance on your claim so you’ll have access to a certain sum (dependent on your policy) to help you purchase items that you’ll need right away.
3. In addition to contacting your insurance company, contact the Red Cross. A very sweet Red Cross volunteer came out in the middle of the night during the fire to give us a debit card with immediate access to a small amount of money to cover the very, very immediate needs of our family. He also brought some stuffed animals for the kids to snuggle with which was just so special to me in the midst of all that chaos. The Red Cross will help with emergency lodging if needed and they even told me they’d help with any work needs (replacing tools if you needed them to work, or a laptop if you needed that for work etc). The Red Cross rocks!
4. Be aware: people and companies WILL try to take advantage of you, be prepared. We had a fence company come out the night of the fire to board up what was left of our house. They told us “don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything for you guys.” They told us they’d come search through the muck for any salvageable items, they’d box them up for us and even store them for us! “Wow,” I thought, “that’s so nice of them and helps us so much!” What they didn’t tell us was that they’d be billing us like crazy to box up and store our very much not salvageable items. They also charged us a bunch to attempt to clean and sanitize said items only to later say oops, guess we couldn’t salvage this stuff after all.
That night was a blur so we didn’t understand what hugely unnecessary things we were agreeing to, so just beware and be skeptical of any company that pounces on you when you’re vulnerable.
5. I’m sure you’ll be very quickly contacted by a public adjuster. Whether to use one or not is up to you but read the fine print closely. You’ll be signing over that you will pay them a set percentage of EVERY dollar your insurance company pays you. It sounds enticing because who wants to hassle with insurance when these guys are saying they’ll do it all for you? You might feel differently once you realize that most, if not all of what your insurance pays out is standard and you’d get that same amount with or without using the public adjuster. With them you’ll just now have to give them 10% of every single dollar paid to you, whether they did anything to help obtain the payment or not. Again, up to you but I personally vote no on this one.
6. Take a minute and just breathe. This is a huge loss and a very traumatic event you’re going through and it’s ok to not be ok. Just tackle things one by one and try not to get too overwhelmed. When you do, take a step back and ask for help. We’re over a year post-fire and still learning so much as we go.
Stay safe everyone!
Special thanks to Brooke Rummonds for allowing us to share her invaluable advice.