What to do after a fire
Breathing in hot smoke can cause physical harm which you may only notice after a number of hours. Use the NHS website, see your doctor or, if advised by a medical professional, go to a hospital if you feel unwell after a fire.
Anyone with allergies, breathing difficulties or asthma should keep away from the property until the air quality has returned to normal. Advice and support with emotional aspects of an incident is also available.
Pets can also be affected so if you have concerns contact your vet, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) or People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) who will be able to offer help and advice.
If you are in rented accommodation contact your landlord. If you think your home is not habitable some insurance policies cover alternative accommodation or think about whether you can stay with family or friends. Your local district council’s housing office may be able to offer emergency accommodation. The British Red Cross offers excellent crisis assistance.
If you have insurance cover you will need to contact your company as soon as possible. Many have 24-hour emergency help lines. The following advice may help you:
- Check your policy details in relation to the loss/incident suffered and ask for a claim form.
- Keep receipts for all work undertaken following a loss, as they may be needed to form part of any claim.
- The insurance company may wish to inspect the property/contents before clearing up begins.
- Make a list of any damaged property or goods and take photos when it is safe to do so, as this may help with your claim.
- Get written quotes for any building works and redecoration (normally three are needed) and submit these with your claim form and any receipts to your insurance company.
Cleaning, safety and security
Due to the hot gases, smoke and high temperatures fires produce, it is necessary to ventilate the property at the earliest opportunity to reduce these effects.
Sometimes firefighters have to make holes in walls, floors and ceilings to check for hidden fire spread and make sure the fire is completely out.
The smell of smoke will remain even after thorough cleaning, but the main risk will be from residual fumes which can be dangerous to breathe. Keep windows and doors wide open as long as possible (without lessening security).
If we have used fire hoses, there will always be some water damage. Remove as much as possible with a water vacuum or pump, then mop and leave to dry naturally. Dehumidifiers can be helpful in poorly ventilated areas. All this equipment can be hired.
A number of companies offer a cleaning service. Larger companies have facilities to remove the smell of smoke and can offer a specialist freeze-drying system for salvage of important documents, electrical equipment including computers, works of art and other valuable items which may have been damaged.
Never attempt to turn on your gas, electricity or water supply until a qualified engineer has checked them (contact your relevant supplier).
Be aware of security after a fire. Once we have left, your property is your responsibility. If you have to leave your property unattended remove any valuables, important documents and vital medicines as soon as it’s safe to do so. Close and lock all windows and doors to deter thieves and, if you’re not able to secure your home properly, you will need to arrange someone to help secure the property. Once you have left, you should contact the police to make sure they know your property is empty.
If you are using a rubbish removal company ask to see their waste carriers’ license – details on the Environment Agency website.
Return prescription medicines to the chemist for safe disposal. Other medicines, food or drink exposed to heat, smoke or floodwater must be thrown out. Any food in the freezer that has thawed must also be thrown out.
Firefighters may try to help salvage some of your property by carrying it to a safe place under a salvage sheet, or they may have ‘sheeted-up’ damaged areas of your roof or other exposed areas to further protect your home. KFRS will be in contact to collect our salvage sheeting over the next few days.
- The chimney will remain hot for several hours so place a guard in front of the fire. Place a non-flammable container in the fireplace half filled with water to catch any falling debris. Leave the chimney to cool for 24 hours.
- Have the chimney swept as soon as possible and then regularly at least once a year. If you burn low-grade fuels such as wood, the chimney will need sweeping more often.
- Kent Fire and Rescue Service offers a free 'Clean Sweep' email reminder service for properties with open fires or wood burners.
- Contact your insurance company who will issue duplicate documents.
- Contact your bank or building society about replacements of any documents or cards needed.
- Visit GOV.UK for advice about replacing lost or damaged passports.
- Contact your doctor or the local hospital about any medical records or prescription needs.
- A burnt vehicle is still very dangerous, even when the fire is out. Stay a safe distance away and take care if you're near a busy road.
- It is your responsibility to remove your damaged car and associated debris from the highway. This may be done under the terms of your breakdown recovery service or motor insurance policy.
- Report the incident to the police if the fire was the result of a crash, suspected arson or if someone (or an animal) was injured.
- When safe to do so and as directed, remove any valuables and documents.