Policyholder Claim Story: Rich in Ohio

August 05, 2016

The Fire

On September 20, 2014, Rich and his wife were in the final few weeks of a two-year-long home remodeling. Rich's home is a 1950's-style ranch home. The goal of the remodel was to create an open floor plan within the home. This would include removing three walls to combine the sunroom, kitchen, dining room, and living room, followed by extending out a fourth wall and replacing a screened in back porch. Rich and his wife performed nearly all of the work themselves.

On this Saturday, they were finishing up the living room by applying a fresh coat of stain / varnish to the solid wood paneling. The pair finished this task late Saturday night. Rich laid the staining rag over the edge of a plastic trash can sitting in the garage.

The Fire

The next day, on Sunday, Rich and his wife left the house for the morning.  While they were out, the rag in the garage ignited, setting off a dangerous series of events.  The rag lit the contents of the trash can on fire.  The plastic trash can melted, igniting another plastic trash can.  This can fell onto and melted a one gallon plastic gas can, sending gasoline onto the garage floor.  The intensity quickly accelerated as the fire melted through the plastic gas tanks of the lawn mower, weed whacker, and leaf blower.  This quickly ignited everything combustible, including all of the wood from the small woodshop in the garage, setting the garage ablaze. 

Thankfully, a neighbor, having just gotten up from a nap, spotted flames in the garage window and quickly called 9-1-1.      

Unaware of the fire ravishing their garage, Rich and his wife were traveling home when they spotted fire trucks ahead of them.  With sirens blaring, these trucks traveled through intersections in front of the couple.  Just then, Rich's wife received a call from their neighbor notifying them of the fire.  "It was the longest two-mile drive home of our lives" said Rich.  The couple had no idea how much damage was done or if the fire was even put out yet.  They arrived to see firefighters with hoses approaching their garage.  This is when the couple witnessed the orange flames raging behind the garage door windows.  "Seconds seemed like minutes" before the firefighters broke open these glass windows with their water hose.  After that, the fire was extinguished in less than a minute.

An important note to remember about a fire extinguished with water: a huge amount of steam is produced.  The steam mixes with the smoke and results in significant damage.  Rich's house and attic were filled with this combination immediately after the fire was extinguished.  Fortunately, the fire did not breach the drywall in the garage.

Reality Sets In

Once the fire chief and the fire investigator finished their work with the couple's damaged property, Rich was informed that his power, water, and gas had been cut off.  He was also told to board up their home before dark to prevent any acts of vandalism.  Rich described this moment, "You literally feel totally helpless at that point".   

Fortunately, Goodville's independent adjuster, Tim Couch of Northeast Adjusting Services, Inc. arrived at the property that same afternoon after traveling for two hours.  Rich comments, "It was comforting as Tim explained the steps we needed to take to prepare".  "I distinctly remember him saying ?everything will be OK, but prepare for some really bad days ahead'."  For Rich and his wife, those bad days stretched into the following three weeks.  

The couple immediately started removing contents to create an inventory and deciding what could be salvaged.  For Rich and his wife, the most difficult part of this process was watching as four new remodeled rooms were stripped down to the studs.  Windows, trim, doors, ceilings, insulation, and flooring were tossed into dumpsters. 

Aftermath of the FireDamage to Walls

A Place to Stay

Rich and his wife were unable to stay in their home after the fire and during the construction.  They were invited to stay with a neighbor for the first three weeks.  This was a great help as they began to empty their house and sort through their contents. 

The couple then moved into the local Residence Inn.  This Inn allowed pets, and fortunately, the family cat survived the fire.  Goodville provided Rich and his wife with funds to stay in this location for the next eight months.  Rich says, "This was so comforting and conveniently located". 

Recovery

Rich began looking for recovery service contractors right away.  He found many of these contractors immediately eager to sign you up and ready to start.  However, he soon learned this is not the time to make any quick decisions.  You need to ask detailed questions of each contractor and quickly become educated on fire restoration processes.  Rich suggests asking for documented process and task lists, and agreements with commitment deadlines.  Also, try to setup weekly reviews of the progress.  He states, "You have to engage yourself in the entire process from inventory to restoration." 

Rich found that there are all-in-one fire restoration service providers, but when you discuss details, most subcontract out various services such as demolition, fire restoration, construction, finishing, content cleaning / restoration, and so on.  That is not a bad thing, but you need to also research the sub-contractors.  

Rich and his wife decided to use an all-in-one contractor. Unfortunately, after six months of work and delays, the couple decided to part ways with their contractor.     

With their knowledge from the remodeling process, the couple completed the remaining work themselves over the next three months.  This involved painting, electrical and plumbing, and working with a kitchen cabinet installer.  Because Rich is the homeowner, the county inspectors agreed to perform remaining inspections without the contractors.  The restoration work passed all the inspections.

Restored Home

Fire Prevention / Damage Prevention Suggestions 

After going through the process of recovering from a fire, Rich has several suggestions he likes to share with friends, neighbors, and co-workers:
  1. Purchase a fire proof trash container when working with heavy oils, oil-based paints, and varnishes.  This container should be used to hold all waste rags and used brushes.  Rich was told by the fire chief that even peanut oil on cotton rags is capable of self-combusting if not discarded properly.
  2. Buy only metal Type-II Safety Cans for storing gasoline and other flammable liquids.  Rich had three gallons of liquid stored in this type of metal can, and they did not ignite in the fire.  If possible, the best option is to not store any fuel in your home, including propane.
  3. Make sure you have a fire-rated door between the house and the connected garage.  Also, ensure it has spring-loaded hinges to keep the door closed.  In Rich's situation, smoke entered the house from the garage through this avenue, causing much damage.
  4. Make sure to keep any attic access closed to the garage.  Similar to the previous situation, smoke entered the attic in this way and coated everything in black soot.
  5. Upgrade your thermostat to communicate with your smoke detectors.  This will enable the thermostat to shut off the air-conditioner / furnace fan in the event of smoke.  For Rich, his thermostat turned on the air-conditioner to adjust for the heat, contributing to the spread of smoke throughout the house.
  6. Upgrade your smoke alarms to send a text if triggered.  Rich's home contained five smoke alarms, and all were triggered by the fire.  However, none of the alarms could be heard by neighbors until they stepped outside of their homes.

Restoration Process Suggestions 

Rich also shares several recommendations on how to best navigate the restoration process:   
  • Inventory and secure all contents of the home / garage before removing anything for disposal, cleaning, or replacement.  This process will ensure that every item is accounted for in the end.  Rich notes that during the entire 18-month restoration period, he spent considerable hours itemizing construction tasks and ensuring quality of work.  "This is not the norm, but you should be prepared to do so if necessary" says Rich.  
  • As part of your inventory, take pictures of all contents before removal from the home / garage.  Rich says, "Do not rely solely on the contractors to perform this task even if they say it is part of their service".  

Conclusions  

The entire process of restoring the house and contents to pre-fire conditions took 18 months.  Rich reports that there is no indication the house sustained a fire. He and his wife are "so grateful for [the independent adjuster] Tim Couch, [the Goodville claims representative] Michael Eby, and their insurance agent Steve Miller [of S C Miller Agency], who guided [them] through this life changing ordeal".  Rich continues, "I want to thank Goodville so much for your service and support in helping return our home to its original state."  "Throughout the entire process I found that Goodville representatives were extremely fair and responsive to our needs and patient with the delays we experienced with contractors."

Rich and his wife are also thankful for the friends who stepped up to help during this tragedy.  They were willing to immediately open their homes, provide meals, and help sift through their belongings. 

In a final statement, Rich says, "I have realized so many unpleasant emotions associated with the fire and have absolute fear of ever experiencing it again.  It was a test of our faith, our marriage and strength to just plow through it all.  A fire is a life changing event, and we pray we never experience it again.  [We] have a whole new perspective and compassion for fire victims."  

The couple hopes their story can educate the public about fire prevention and help others experiencing something similar.  


This blog entry is created for informational purposes only.  Any viewpoint or sponsorship of outside parties involved in the blog entry does not necessarily represent Goodville's stance as a company.  The blog should not be used as a substitute for professional advice.