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Bruce Sackrison

Bruce Sackrison is a Napa Valley Register columnist who will write about property and casualty insurance matters.

J.L. Sousa/Register

No one wants to be the victim of home fire. But if you are, do you know what to do?

Do you have a “next steps” insurance claim plan?

I’ve insured a few people who made such a plan. Let’s look at one couple to see how it worked for them.

The dynamic duo: “Let’s-Get-It-Done Lucy” and “Record-Keeping Roger”

Lucy and Roger (not their real names) stood outside with their kids and watched the last of the fire trucks leave after their house fire. Their home was still smoldering. They couldn’t safely go back inside tonight.

What did they do?

Step 1: They started keeping receipts.

They needed a hotel. They needed fresh clothes. The kids needed to eat. Lucy and Roger needed coffee. Oh my gosh, how they needed coffee.

All of that cost money, and most of it was likely reimbursable later by their homeowners insurance… if they had the receipts. This was Roger’s part of the plan, and even though everyone else got annoyed when he asked for receipts… for everything… they thanked him later.

Step 2: They started keeping a journal.

Once safely in a hotel, with fresh clothes, fresh toiletries, and food in their stomachs, Roger started a journal to document everything that happened after the fire.

He knew that there would be many phone calls and emails back and forth, as well as letters from the insurance company. Meetings with the claims adjuster. Conversations with contractors.

He lived by the old saying: “the weakest pencil lead is stronger than the strongest memory.”

Step 3. They called the insurance company.

Now it was time for Lucy to do what she did best… put things in motion.

Lucy knew that she and Roger had a contractual responsibility to notify the insurance company as soon as possible.

So, she called the 24-hour claims line that night to report the claim. Thanks to Roger, who kept policy numbers in his contacts on his phone, she was able to provide everything they needed to start a claim: name, phone number, policy number, address of their home, and a description of the damage.

Step 4: They assessed the damage.

The next morning, before the adjuster met them later in the day, Lucy and Roger went home to survey the damage. They made sure to check with the fire department that it was safe to go back inside.

With Lucy leading, and Roger taking photos (lots and lots of photos), they did a quick walkthrough. And they made sure to not disturb anything.

Step 5: They secured their home from further damage.

During the initial survey, they saw that the fire had burned a sizable hole in the roof. They also saw the weather report and knew that a thunderstorm was due later that afternoon.

So, Lucy called a contractor friend from church, and he came by within the hour to nail a tarp over the hole in the roof, to keep water from coming in and doing more damage. Lucy and Roger knew that this was an obligation they had under the terms of their homeowners policy.

Stay tuned

In my next article, I’ll finish the story of Lucy and Roger, and you’ll see how previous planning paid off during the claims process and how they got the payout that they knew was fair.

Bruce Sackrison is an insurance property and casualty broker affiliated with Professional Insurance Associates. He is at 707-931-0186 or