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Step 1: Safety First!
By Jonathan Meyer
Dangers may still exist even when the fire is extinguished. Do not endanger yourself or your family after a fire event. Keep children and pets away. Try to protect yourself and your family from stress, fatigue, and fire-related health hazards such as smoke inhalation and dust particles.
The following precautions will help neutralize the common fire-related hazards, ensuring a safe recovery process:
1. Determine Structural Stability
Determine whether your property is structurally safe to enter. Before entering your home or business, take a look and try to detect hot spots that can flare up without warning.
Avoid damaged or fallen power poles or lines and downed wires. Electric wires may shock people or cause further fires. Keep in mind that power poles may have lost stability due to fire damage.
Watch for ash pits and mark them for safety. Ash pits are holes full of hot ashes, created by burned trees and stumps.
If you cannot be certain the building is safe or if you have any question regarding personal safety, stay out and have a professional make an assessment.
Check the roof and extinguish any sparks or embers to prevent them from reigniting.
If your property is determined unsafe and you cannot live in your home while repairs are being made, make arrangements for temporary alternate lodging. Keep records of all additional expenses incurred as a result. Most insurance policies will cover additional living expenses.
If the building is determined safe, walk in carefully and inspect indoor stability. Use caution and exercise good judgment when reentering a burned building.
2. Check the Power Supply
Often, the fire department will have utility services shut off or disconnected as a safety precaution and to prevent further damage to the structure and contents.
If there is no power, make sure the main circuit breaker is on. Fires may cause circuit breaker failure. If the circuit breakers are on and power is still not present, contact the utility company.
The utility company will not make repairs to the customer's side of the meter such as house wiring or gas lines. A private contractor will have to make the repairs. Utility companies will not restore your utilities until the repairs are approved.
Do not attempt to reconnect utilities yourself!
3. Recheck The Property
Check for smoke and embers throughout the property several hours after a fire. Inspect every room including the attic and basement. Winds can blow burning embers anywhere. Keep checking the property for embers that could cause fires.
4. Wet Down Debris
Debris should be soaked to minimize health impacts from breathing dust particles.
5. Discard Hazardous Materials Safely
Hazardous materials such as cleaning products, paint, batteries, contaminated fuel, and other flammable substances need to be properly discarded to avoid risk. Check with local authorities for hazardous disposal instructions.
6. Use Protective Gear
Protect yourself during clean up using protective gear such as:
- Disposable plastic gloves that will protect you from bacteria while working with remnants, plumbing, and sewer pipes
- Leather gloves will protect your hands from sharp objects while removing debris
- A respirator with a particulate filter, N-95 respirator, or half-face respirator with a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filter
- Goggles or protective eyewear
- Disposable full-body clothing, coveralls, or a lab coat
- Protective head gear
- Rubber boots or foot coverings
Be sure to use disinfectants to wash hands before eating.