Returning to Normal
Recovering from a fire can be a physically and mentally draining process. When fire strikes,
lives are suddenly turned around. Often, the hardest part is knowing where to begin and who to
The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) United States Fire Administration
(USFA) has gathered the following information to assist you in this time of need. Action on
some of the suggestions will need to be taken immediately. Some actions may be needed in the
future while others will be on going. The purpose of this information is to give you the
assistance needed to assist you as you begin rebuilding your life.
Securing Yourself and The Site

Contact your local disaster relief service, such as the American Red Cross or the

Salvation Army, to help with your immediate needs, such as:

Temporary housing










Other essential items

Contact your insurance agent/company.


Do not enter the damaged site. Fires can rekindle from hidden, smoldering remains.

Normally, the fire department will see that utilities (water, electricity and natural gas)

are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the site. Do not attempt to
turn on utilities yourself.

Be watchful for structural damage cased by the fire. Roofs and floors may be

damaged and subject to collapse.

Food, beverages and medicine exposed to heat, smoke, soot and water should not be

Leaving your Home

Contact your local police departments to let them know the site will be unoccupied.

In some cases it may be necessary to board up opening to discourage trespassers.

Beginning immediately, save receipts for any money you spend. These receipts are

important in showing the insurance company what money you have spent related to your
fire loss and also for verifying losses claimed on your income tax.

If it is safe to do so, try to locate the following items:


Identification, such as driver’s licenses and Social Security cards


Insurance information


Medication information


Eyeglasses, hearing aids or other prosthetic devices


Valuables, such as credit cards, bank books, cash and jewelry

There are many people/entities that should be notified of your relocation, including:


Your insurance agent/company


Your mortgage company (also inform them of the fire)


Your family and friends


Your employer


Your child’s school


Your post office


Any delivery services


Your fire and police departments


Your utility companies

Do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made. All damages are

taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.

If you are considering contracting for inventory or repair services discuss your plans with

your insurance agent/company.

Give notice of the loss to the insurance company or the insurer’s agent/company.

Ask the insurance company what to do about the immediate needs of the dwelling, such

as covering doors, windows, and other exposed areas, and pumping out water.

Ask your insurance agent/company what actions are required of you. Some

policyholders may be required to make an inventory of damaged personal property
showing in detail the quantity, description and how much you paid for the items.

Your recovery from a fire loss may be based upon your own resources and help from

your community.

Private organizations that may be sources of aid or information:


American Red cross


Salvation Army


Religious organizations


Department of social services


Civic organizations


State or municipal emergency services office


Non-profit crisis counseling centers

You will encounter different viewpoints on the value of your property in adjusting your fire loss
or in claiming a casualty loss on your federal income tax. Knowing the following terms will help
you understand the process used to determine the value of your fire loss:
Your personal valuation



: Your personal loss of goods through fire may be difficult to measure.

These personal items have SENTIMENTAL VALUE to you; however, it is objective measures
of value that you, the insurer, and the Internal Revenue Service will use as a common ground for
discussion. Some of these objective measures are discussed below.
Cost when purchased



: This is an important element in establishing an item’s final value.

Receipts will help verify the cost price.
Fair market value before the fire



: This concept is also expressed as ACTUAL CASH VALUE.

This is what you could have received for the item if you had sold it the day before the fire. The
price would reflect its cost at purchase minus the wear it had sustained since purchase.
DEPRECIATION is the formal term used to express the amount of value an item loses over a
period of time.
Value after the fire



: This is sometimes called the item’s salvage value.

Restoration Services
There are companies that specialize in the restoration of fire damaged structures. Whether you
or your insurer employs this type of service, be clear of who will pay. Be sure to request an
estimate of cost for the work Before any company is hired check their references. These
companies provide a range of services that may include some or all of the following:

Securing the site against further damage


Estimating structural damage


Repairing structural damage


Estimating the cost to repair or renew items of personal property


Packing, transportation, and storage of household items


Securing appropriate cleaning or repair subcontractors


Storing repaired items until needed

Here’s a check list of documents you will need to replace if they have been destroyed, and who
to contact for information on the replacement process.
Driver’s license, Auto registration Department of motor vehicles
Bank books (checking, savings, etc) Your bank, as soon as possible
Insurance polices Your insurance agent
Military discharge papers Department of Veterans Affairs
Passports Passport service
Birth, death and marriage certificates Bureau of Records in appropriate state
Divorce papers Circuit court where decree was issued
Social Security or Medicare cards Local Social Security office
Credit cards The issuing companies, as soon as possible
Titles to deeds
Records department of the locality in which
Property is located
Stocks and bonds Issuing company or your broker
Wills Your lawyer
Medical records Your doctor
Warranties Issuing company
Income tax records
The IRS Center where filed or your
Citizen papers US Immigration & Naturalization Service
Prepaid burial contract Issuing company
Animal registration papers Humane Society
Mortgage papers Lending institution
Professional fire and water damage restoration businesses may be the best source of cleaning and
restoring your personal belongings. Companies offering this service can be located in the phone
A word of caution before you begin: test garments before using any treatment, and follow the
manufacturer’s instructions. Several of the cleaning mixtures described in this section contain
the substance Tri-Sodium Phosphate. This substance can be purchased under the generic name
TSP. Tri-Sodium Phosphate is a caustic substance used commonly as a cleaning agent. It should
be used with care and stored out of reach of children and pets. Wear rubber gloves when using if
you have sensitive skin. Read the label for further information.
Smoke odor and soot can sometimes be washed from clothing. The following formula may work
for clothing that can be bleached:

4 to 6 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate


1 cup household cleaner or chlorine bleach


1 gallon warm water

Mix well, add clothes, rinse with clear water. Dry thoroughly.
An effective way to remove mildew from clothing is to wash the fresh stain with soap and warm
water, rinse, and then dry in the sun. If the stain has not disappeared, use lemon juice and salt or
a diluted solution of household chlorine bleach.
Cooking Utensils
Your pots, pans, flatware, etc., should be washed with soapy water, rinsed and then polished with
a fine-powdered cleaner. You can polish copper and brass with special polish, salt sprinkled on a
piece of lemon, or salt sprinkled on a cloth saturated with vinegar.
Electrical Appliances
Don’t use appliances that have been exposed to water or steam until you have a service
representative check them. This is especially true of electrical appliances. In addition, steam can
remove the lubricant from some moving parts.
If the fire department turned off your gas or power during the fire, call the
electric or gas company to restore these services-do not try
to do it yourself.
Wash your canned goods in detergent and water. Do the same for food in jars. If labels come
off, be sure you mark the contents on the can or jar with a grease pencil. Do not use canned
goods when the cans have bulged or rusted. Do not refreeze frozen food that has thawed.
To remove odor from your refrigerator or freezer, wash the inside with a solution of baking soda
and water, or use one cup of vinegar or household ammonia to one gallon of water. Baking soda
in an open container or a piece of charcoal can also be placed in the refrigerator of freezer to
absorb odor.
Rugs and Carpets
Rugs and carpets should be allowed to dry thoroughly. Throw rugs can be cleaned by beating,
sweeping, or vacuuming, and then shampooing. Rugs should be dried as quickly as possible-lay
them flat and expose them to a circulation of warm, dry air. A fan turned on the rugs will speed
drying. Make sure the rugs are thoroughly dry. Even though the surface seems dry, moisture
remaining at the base of the tufts can quickly cause the rug to rot. For information on cleaning
and preserving carpets, call your carpet dealer or installer or a qualified carpet cleaning
Leather and Books
Wipe leather goods with a damp cloth, then a dry cloth. Stuff purses and shoes with newspaper
to retain shape. Leave suitcases open. Leather goods should be dried away from heat and sun.
When leather goods are dry, clean with saddle soap. Rinse leather and suede jackets in cold
water and dry away from heat and sun.
Wet books must be taken care of as soon as possible. The best method to save wet books is to
freeze them in a vacuum freezer. This special freezer will remove the moisture without
damaging the pages.
If there will be a delay in locating such a freezer, then place them in a normal freezer until a
vacuum freezer can be located.
A local librarian can also be a good resource.
Locks and Hinges
Locks (especially iron locks) should be taken apart and wiped with oil. If locks cannot be
removed, squirt machine oil through a bolt opening or keyhole, and work the knob to distribute
the oil. Hinges should also be thoroughly cleaned and oiled.
Walls, Floors and Furniture
To remove soot and smoke from walls, furniture and floors, use a mild soap or detergent or mix
together the following solution:

4 to 6 tbsp. Tri-Sodium Phosphate


1 cup household cleaner or chlorine bleach


1 gallon warm water

Wear rubber gloves when cleaning with this solution. Be sure to rinse your walls and furniture
with clear warm water and dry thoroughly after washing them with this solution.
Wash a small area at one time, working from the floor up. Then rinse the wall with clear water
immediately. Ceilings should be washed last.
Do not repaint until walls and ceilings are completely dry.
Your wallpaper can also be repaired. Use a commercial past to repast a loose edge or section.
Contact your wallpaper dealer or installer for information on wallpaper cleaners. Washable
wallpaper can be cleansed like any ordinary wall, but care must be taken not to soak the paper.
Work from bottom to top to prevent streaking.
Wood Furniture

Do not dry your furniture in the sun. The wood will warp and twist out of shape.


Clear off mud and dirt.


Remove drawers. Let them dry thoroughly so there will be no sticking when you replace


Scrub wood furniture or fixtures with a stiff bush and a cleaning solution.


Wet wood can decay and mold, so dry thoroughly.


Open doors and windows for good ventilation. Turn on your furnace or air conditioner, if


If mold forms, wipe the wood with a cloth soaked in mixture of borax dissolved in hot


To remove white spots or film, rub the wood surface with a cloth soaked in a solution of

½ cup household ammonia and ½ cup water. Then wipe the surface dry and polish with
wax or rub the surface with a cloth soaked in a solution of ½ cup turpentine and ½ cup
linseed oil. Be careful-turpentine is combustible.
Your can also rub the wood surface with a fine grade steel wool pad dripped in liquid polishing
was, clean the area with a soft cloth and then buff.
Money Replacement
Handle burned money as little as possible. Attempt to encase each bill or portion of a bill in
plastic wrap for preservation. If money is only half-burned or less (if half or more is still in tact),
you can take the remainder to your regional Federal Reserve Bank fore replacement. Ask your
bank for the nearest one. Or you can mail the burned or torn money by “registered mail, return
receipt requested” to:
Department of the Treasury
Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Office of Currency Standards
P.O. Box 37048
Washington DC 20013
Mutilated or melted coins can be taken to your regional Federal Reserve Bank or mailed by
“registered mail, return receipt requested” to:
U.S. Mint
P.O. Box 400
Philadelphia PA 19105
If your U.S. Savings Bonds have been destroyed or mutilated, you must obtain Department of
Treasury Form PD F 1048 II) from your bank or and mail to:

Department of the Treasury
Bureau of Public Debt
Savings Bonds Operations
P.O. Box 1328
Parkersburg, WV 26106-1328
Tax Information
Check with an accountant, tax consultant or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) about special
benefits for people with limited financial needs after a fire loss.
Common Questions
Q. Why are windows broken or holes cut in the roof?
As a fire burns, it moves upward then outward. Breaking the windows and/or cutting
holes in the roof (called ventilation) slows the damaging outward movement, helps
remove blinding smoke that obscures the actual fire, and enables firefighters to fight the
fire more efficiently. The result of this action is less damage to the structure in the long
Q. Why are holes cut in walls?
This is done so that the fire department is absolutely sure that the fire is completely out,
and that there is no fire inside the walls or other hidden places.
Q. Is it possible to obtain a copy of the fire report?
In most localities, a fire report is a public document and is available at the fire department
or fire marshal’s office.
Please fill this area in with your local phone numbers and keep copies at locations other than
your home.
Poison Control
Insurance Company
medical policy number
home policy number
auto policy number
Gas/Fuel Company
American Red Cross
Work Numbers
The following checklist serves as a quick reference and guide for you to follow after a fire
1. Contact your local disaster relief service, such as The Red Cross, if you need temporary
housing, food and medicines.
2. If you are insured, contact your insurance company for detailed instructions on protecting
the property, conducting inventory and contacting fire damage restoration companies. If
you are not insured, try contacting private organizations for aid and assistance.
3. Check with the fire department to make sure your residence is safe to enter. Be watchful
of any structural damage caused by the fire.
4. The fire department should see that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected
before they leave the site.

DO NOT attempt to reconnect utilities yourself.

5. Conduct an inventory of damaged property and items. Do not throw away any damaged
goods until after an inventory is made.
6. Try to locate valuable documents and records. Refer to information on contacts and the
replacement process inside this brochure.
7. If you leave your home, contact the local police department to let them know the site will
be unoccupied.
8. Begin saving receipts for any money you spend related to fire loss. The receipts may be
needed later by the insurance company and for verifying losses claimed on income tax.
9. Notify your mortgage company of the fire.
10. Check with an accountant or the Internal Revenue Service about special benefits for
people recovering from fire loss.