Fire damage is serious business.

For me, fire has always seemed like an intangible threat. It wasn’t until I began researching this blog and connected with Dave Richards (Zoe Facility Services’ Operations Manager and property damage extraordinaire) for some pointers that my “it couldn’t happen to me” attitude changed. The first thing he said to me was:

“Of all events, fire damage is the most emotionally disturbing and traumatic that my teams and I respond to.”

That’s a big statement from someone who has seen it all. Bigger still, he said it with the kind of melancholy that conveyed he might have seen more than he ever wanted to.

Fire devastates in a manner that other disasters don’t. It eats away at everything in a gutting, tragic, and emotionally taxing sort of way. Yet, most of us feel impervious to its touch. Maybe it’s because we never needed to use the “stop, drop, and roll” teachings of grade school, but fire is a real threat that should always be on our radar.

According to FEMA, there were nearly 1.3 million fires in the United States last year, with firefighters across the country responding to a fire every 24 seconds. With two fires occurring every minute nationwide, shouldn’t we know what to do aside from getting on the floor and rolling away?

Whether you’ve experienced fire damage before or live more in the denial camp like me, there are things we can do to stay prepared – in case we become part of the statistics above.

1. Catalog Your Belongings

In the unlikely event of a fire, whether you’re left with extensive damage or just scrambling to pick up the pieces, one of the most critical tasks is filing an insurance claim. In the immediate aftermath, this can be a confusing and emotional burden to carry out. Whether you’re dealing with total loss or a contained fire, there are going to be some valuables lost (in 2019, fires destroyed $14.8 billion in assets). So, ask yourself this: if you lost everything, would you be able to detail all the items that need to be replaced?

Instead of finding yourself combing through ash and soot, trying to piece together all that’s gone, you can prepare with a little work on the front end. No need to make a list or spreadsheet, just pull out your phone and start recording. A quick video tour of each room in your home will aid you should you ever experience fire damage. Referencing a recording can be a helpful tool when trying to convey your losses to your insurance company. Not to mention, you can easily update as you see fit: monthly, yearly, or whenever you make a large purchase (i.e., furniture, electronics, etc.).

Pro tip: invest in a fire-safe box for belongings and documents that money can’t replace, like this one. And if you’re unsure of how to proceed with insurance, check out this blog on insurance types and how to communicate with your company.

2. Ring the Alarm

I used to live in an apartment where every time I used the stove, the smoke alarm would blare. My solution: take out the battery. Though my dim-witted fix didn’t harm me, I later discovered that I had a malfunctioning stove. It wasn’t a sensitive alarm…it was trying to tell me something.

According to a survey conducted in 2020, roughly 20% of U.S. households have smoke alarms that don’t work. Smoke alarms are your first line of defense to alert you of trouble. However, ensuring your home has properly installed, and maintained units is your responsibility. According to the National Fire Protection Association, new homes should be equipped with a smoke alarm on every level and in every sleeping area. However, if you live in an older dwelling, this might not be the case (many homes built before 1980 contain only a single alarm, regardless of square footage). A study conducted by the CPSC found that when alarms are not on all floors, they only sounded in 4% of fires and alerted 2% of occupants. Wow.

So, what can you do? If your home is up to current codes, use the test button on every unit monthly to ensure it’s working correctly. If not, consider updating your system to interconnected units (alarms that “talk” to one another)  in every sleeping area and home level. Interconnected smoke alarms have proven to increase safety and are more likely to operate and alert occupants of a fire.

(Oh yeah, and the most common reason for the 20% of non-working smoke alarms: dead or removed batteries.)

3. Play it Safe

Know what the leading cause of residential fire damage is? Cooking. That’s right, the reason I removed my smoke alarm batteries is the cause of 30% of household fires. Among that statistic, is an electrical malfunction, open flames, and heating. I’m not saying you should go hungry, in the cold, without any lights on – but there are some tips that can help safeguard you from a fire.

• Cooking – In case of a grease fire, turn off the heat and use baking soda or salt to smother the fire. You can also use a fire extinguisher if things start to get out of hand. NEVER EVER use water.

• Electrical – Older homes have fuse boxes instead of circuit breakers. Consider hiring an electrician to upgrade your home, as circuit breakers respond quicker and are more sensitive to surges and other electrical issues. Also, be mindful of what’s hiding in your wall when drilling or hanging décor.

Open Flame – On average, 20 home candle fires are reported daily. If you are using candles or an open flame indoors, keep them 12 inches from anything that can burn and extinguish them anytime you leave a room. A safer option is flameless candles which can mimic the look and scent of real candles.

• Heating – Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from heating equipment, like fireplaces, furnaces, and space heaters. If you use a fireplace, make sure the chimney is inspected and cleaned by a professional every year (this goes for HVAC, too).

Even if we do everything right, sometimes fires happen. In the event of fire damage, the best option is to call a professional.

Zoe Facility Services understands the emotional burden that fire damage can take. Our team of qualified professionals will walk with you every step of the way and help get you back on your feet. With 24/7 access, Zoe Facility Services is always available and able to help you in the restoration, and rebuilding, and even aid you in filing those pesky insurance claims.