A fire in your home can be a frightening and devastating experience, and the damage it causes is beyond your control. However, as you prepare to assess and clean up, there are steps you can take to minimize damage and keep yourself and your relatives safe.

Ask when it is safe to enter a house or other building on the property after a fire.

Before you re-enter your home or property after a fire, check with the fire department to make sure it’s structurally safe to be in there. Even if it’s structurally safe, there may be other hazards, such as toxins or carcinogenic airborne particles. You may be able to enter but only if you’re wearing the correct safety gear, such as a breathing mask or higher-end breathing apparatus and boots.

Be aware that if your house is too severely damaged, you may not be allowed back inside at all for safety reasons. If this happens, you should discuss your options with the fire department and city inspectors to see what your next steps should be for salvaging any of your items.

Know who to call after a fire.

Once your family is safe, and the fire is put out, one of the first calls you should make is to your insurance agent. Your agent will start the ball rolling on getting your fire claim processed. Depending on your policy, you may be able to get immediate financial assistance for a hotel room to stay in during the time your other claims are under processing.

After you talk to your insurance company, you should probably start talking to professional restoration service providers for fire damage restoration. Your insurance agent may be able to assist you with a list of providers they have successfully worked with in the past. Check your insurance policy details for how your insurance will cover these services and follow their instructions to ensure rapid and complete coverage of your expenses.

Understand what happens with a “fire report” and how to get a copy.

The fire report is a vital piece of evidence for your insurance claim, and it’s essential that you receive a copy. Your insurance agent will obtain a copy for their use and will likely share it with you, but as the owner of the property, it is your right to request one, too. You can obtain it by speaking to your local fire department. Different municipalities have different rules in place for exactly how to get the report, but usually, you can get it by mail or by downloading it from a secure link at a designated time after the fire.

Secure the property.

Once it’s safe to enter your property, or even if it’s been deemed unsafe, you’ll still want to secure your property. Enterprising criminals may see a burned home as an opportunity to pick up things to sell, which might include copper pipes or other items of value. You also don’t want to be held potentially liable for kids or teens wandering into your property and hurting themselves.

One of the quickest ways to secure property is to enlist the services of a local fencing company, which can rapidly put up a chain link fence around your house perimeter, securing all openings and allowing you to enter and exit as needed. As an alternative, boarding-up companies will do just that, board up all windows to detract looters from entering your home and stealing valuables.

Keep organized records.

Make sure you keep all documentation of the damage to your home as well as records of all communication between you and the insurance company and restoration professionals. Immediately after you are allowed back into your property, try to video as much as possible of the damage from room to room. You may also want to photograph individual items or sets of objects. Try to make sure all video and photos are as organized as possible. Keep all correspondence regarding the fire and any fire-related receipts.

Consider the clean-up and restoration requirements.

You’ll need to generally know how to handle smoke and soot damage after a fire. Furthermore, if water hoses were used to put out your fire, drying your home is very important, as mold damage may result to your home’s structure as well as your household items. A good restoration company can assist or take charge of this part of the process.

They should be able to thoroughly clean and restore your household items using techniques such as ultrasonic cleaning, which quickly and efficiently restores even the most delicate household items. Make sure you document the restoration process from beginning to end, so that you can dispute any unexpected or erroneous charges to your insurance company.

Seek counseling if needed and reassure your children.

Finally, don’t forget the human factor. This is your home, and a fire has an emotional impact on your family, especially your children. Don’t ignore your own emotions, as well. Make sure that you seek out any needed counseling and reassure your children and other family members that everything will be okay and that their needs will be taken care of during this challenging time.