3 lessons from the fire in my home

Bakerjian house fire: Firemen who helped save our home.
Firemen who helped save our home.

Planning is a given in my business. It’s what I do. Most of the time that planning revolves around investments, which has been my focus for 30-plus years.

But investing isn’t the only thing that requires planning. Other aspects of life can affect us not only financially but personally too. And it’s good to be prepared when something unforeseen pops up.

In July 2013, I had an opportunity to find out the hard way if I’d done a good job of planning in one of these areas. My home caught fire, and my life was turned upside down.

My wife and son calmly walked out

The fire damaged a very large portion of my home rendering it unlivable.

While my wife, Roxane, and my son, Craig, were both at home when the fire started, they got out in plenty of time with no injuries at all. They calmly walked out while the fire was in its infancy.

Bakerjian kitchen fire: Our kitchen
Our kitchen.

About two years ago, my homeowners policy came up for renewal. I phoned my insurance agent and had a conversation about my coverage. I made sure that the coverage types and amounts were adequate and that terms of the policy were in place. The policy covered things like higher replacement and building costs.

I renewed the policy and didn’t think much more about it … until I stood in front of my home watching firemen with chainsaws cutting through the roof and seeing smoke billowing out of every opening in the house.

3 to-dos to be ready for a house fire

As you can guess, this episode has been a huge learning experience. In fact, I’m still learning and the final outcome has yet to come. But even now, just a few months into the process, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Review your home owners coverage regularly. This is hugely important. I relied greatly on my agent and she gave me good advice about the types and levels of coverage I should have. If I’d not made that phone call a few years ago I may not have had the level of coverage that I do.

2. Record the items in your home and document their value. I’m still in the middle of the process of working with my insurance company and arriving at the amount of damages they’ll reimburse. Fortunately, I have a lot of receipts for major purchases we’ve made over the years. Unfortunately, I don’t have receipts for everything.

Bakerjian melted light: A light fixture melted by the heat of the fire.
A light fixture melted by the heat of the fire.

You’ve probably heard that it’s a good idea to take photographs and even a video of each room to document their contents. You’ve also probably never done it. If you have, congratulate yourself. If you haven’t, use my experience as motivation to do it. With today’s digital cameras it’s easy to take pictures. Store a set on your computer and another set somewhere else, such as at with your children, at work or in an online storage service. Or, give a set to me, and I’ll store it on my computer here at the office. The point is, if your computer burns up, having your pictures there won’t do you much good.

Having this information is really helpful when it comes time to settle your claim. I mentioned that I’m in the middle of the process. My insurance company has given me a line-by-line list of what losses I incurred and how much they believe each item is worth. There are things that I’ll accept and others that I will speak with them about. Having receipts and video or photographic evidence really helps make sure you are reimbursed fairly.

3. Convince yourself now not to be a hero. Our biggest lesson, however, was learned about 1 minute into the fire. If you reread the 5th paragraph of this story, you’ll see that my wife and son walked out of the house safely. They didn’t try to do anything heroic (although my son wanted to!). They recognized the danger and got out.

Put your safety first

At the moment they left the house, the fire was shin high, having started under our clothes washer. Within two minutes the kitchen was fully ablaze, windows popping out and fire licking the eaves of the roof.

If a fire ever occurs in your home, I can’t tell you firmly enough to forget about everything else except your safety and that of your loved ones. Nothing else matters. It really doesn’t. All of the stuff in your home is just stuff.

The scariest part of this whole experience is to think about what may have happened had Roxane and Craig not recognized what was happening and gotten out.