It’s been eight years and I can still feel the scorching heat from the flames pouring over my house and taste the dense, intoxicating smoke in the back of my throat. It was a 104 degree, clear, sunny day on May 30, 2013 when I received a text message from my next-door neighbor that I read three times before it sunk in as to what I was reading.
"Jen, my house is on fire. Yours is too. Get Timmy out of the house."
I will never forget those words. I will never forget how quickly everything around me went black and I found myself racing out of the office to get home.
Who is Timmy? Timmy was our dog who was home sleeping and doing what dogs do when chaos broke out. I called my husband who happened to be on his way to a meeting near our home. He could see the smoke from the main road and wondered what was happening – unbeknownst to him, our world was about to change in an instant. The streets were blocked by fire trucks, police and onlookers (SO MANY ONLOOKERS), but he forced his way through to get to Timmy. The firefighters would not let him enter the home to save our dog – a rule that I understand for the safety of those brave first responders and us but, at the time, left a pit of pure fear in my husband’s stomach. Luckily, he recognized the name on the back of a firefighter’s jacket and screamed out to him. Yes! It was someone he knew, and he begged him to help him get Timmy out. Scared and shaking but alive and unharmed, Timmy was safe.
We stood on the sidewalk for 8 hours watching our neighbor’s home burn to the foundation, watching flames and smoke engulf our home, watching SIX fire crews battle the blaze and wondering what the outcome would be once the flames extinguished.
A lot happened during that time – no need to relive it all but you get the picture.
The fire was out. My neighbor’s house caved into their basement and one entire side fell into our yard. There was nothing left but a smoldering pile of what used to be a home. My house? Well, it was doused in water to prevent the fire from catching, but it melted as fast as the Wicked Witch. Shout out to the fire crews who got there just in time to save our home from also being a total loss, as well. But, there was damage… SO MUCH DAMAGE.
The list goes on and on. You really have no idea what will race through your mind when something catastrophic happens. But the one thing that never entered my mind in those first several hours was insurance. It wasn’t until someone approached us, handed us a business card, and asked if we needed help boarding up our front door that the firefighters broke down because “he’d be happy to do it for us”. My first thought was “Really? I might not have a home in an hour with a door to fix.” My second thought was “Hmmm if my house makes it, I have no door.” That is the first time we even thought about contacting our insurance carrier.
I didn’t know the answer to that man’s question. DO I need someone to board up my front door for me? Am I supposed to wait until my insurance agent tells me what to do? The answer is actually in most insurance policies under the “Your Duties After a Loss” section. You’ll see language, such as “You must take all reasonable means that are necessary to protect property from further loss or damage.”. Makes sense! We were fortunate to have a trusted broker in our corner helping us navigate this very chaotic time.
The fire started at my neighbor’s house – do I have to pay for this? Who will cover my deductible? I shifted from thinking about water, smoke, and fire damage in my home to “what is my neighbor’s disaster going to cost me, and who is responsible?”
We called our insurance agent – immediately. Are you curious if we slept inside that night with a giant hole where our front door used to be? We boarded it up after getting the “permission” from our insurance agent. We were fine knowing there were just a few boards between us, critters and burglars outside because we didn’t sleep a wink that night anyway.
What had to be repaired/restored?
- Replaced 2 HVAC units
- 2 weeks with a fire restoration company in the house (they actually cleaned residue off our salt and pepper shakers with a miniature brush – not sure that was necessary, but apparently it was!)
- Replaced all windows on the side and back of the house
- Replaced all of the siding on the house
- Replaced the front door (thought about keeping the boards for that rustic look – husband disagreed)
- And so on and so on
This is where it gets interesting. Let’s start with why the fire started. My neighbor was making a tasty dinner in her meat smoker. I won’t go into details about the location of the smoker and how well (ahem) it was supervised. Let your imagination do some work. The smoker went up in flames, and you know the rest. Now is a good time to share these fire prevention tips.
The neighbor claimed it was a faulty meat smoker. The neighbor’s insurance company sued the smoker company. But, what about us? We paid our deductible and work began on our house. Our insurance company filed a claim with neighbor’s insurance company. Nothing could be done until the lawsuit was over between the neighbor’s insurance company and smoker company.
You following? It was a bit of a who’s on first for us, as well. So, we waited. Our insurance company waited.
The smoker company was NOT found at fault. Ok great. So, NOW my insurance company can get paid from the neighbor’s insurance company finally and we moved on. Hold on – what about my deductible? Who is paying for that since this was not my fault? The answer – me. You think uncoated horse pills are tough to swallow – try swallowing that bill for something you had absolutely no control over. But, that’s how it goes and that’s why we have insurance. If we didn’t, we would be out over $100,000 paying for the repairs ourselves instead of our small deductible. To say I took it HARD is an understatement. After the soot settled and I watched crew after crew put my home back together, I quickly realized how lucky we were AND how smart we are to have insurance coverage that protected us from a substantial monetary loss.
The moral of the story is when you think to yourself “that won’t happen to me”, chances are, it will and your chances of coming out on top are better the more informed and prepared you stand.
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