A fire at your home or business is one of those events that you may think only happens to other people. After working in insurance for more than a decade, I can tell you that the dozens of fires I have experienced firsthand with clients have all been unique and extremely surprising to those involved. As October is National Fire Prevention Month, I thought it may be beneficial to show examples of some of the less expected fires experienced by real clients of HPM Insurance and what can be learned from those experiences.
Electrical fire destroys two-family home in Wilton, NH:
Early in my career in New Hampshire, a client came in to notify us that a tenant was using a space heater to warm their apartment during a cold snap. In this case, the problem was not the space heater, but rather the extension cord used as it ran under a carpet, became over-heated and caught the carpet and rest of the home on fire. Electrical fires are not uncommon according to the US Fire Administration as 280 Americans die from electrical fires alone each year and cause more than $1billion in property losses.
I remember the tenant coming to us asking if there was any coverage for her belongings under the landlord's policy, but unfortunately there was not. (She would have had to buy her own tenant's insurance policy.)
I also remember going home and feeling very sorry for this person who just experienced the fire but thinking "that would never happen to me." That was until the cold snap continued and I found myself turning on a space heater in my infant son's room given he liked to kick his blankets off at night regardless of temperature. When I followed the cord, I was horrified that it too was hooked up to an extension cord.
Improperly disposed rag destroys garage in Amherst NH:
HPM Insurance had a client who loved refinishing furniture as a hobby. He loved finding a discarded "gem" on the side of the road, only to bring it home, give it some love and attention, and turn it into a beautiful and useful addition to his home. That was until one weekend when he inadvertently threw one of the stain-soaked rags he was working with into the regular trash. This trash bag was put out into the garage, where it spontaneously combusted and burned the entire garage. Fortunately the garage was not attached to the home itself so no one was hurt, however it did burn the garage to the ground.
Not being a particularly handy person myself, this fact shocked me. I understood that some materials are highly flammable, but I had no idea that something as common as stain could spontaneously combust and cause a fire. This has made me pay closer attention to some of the other household products I use as surprisingly these too need to be handled properly (like a wood cutting board conditioner).
Wind storm turns home to ashes in Milford NH:
Working in a small town like Milford, you get to know many of your clients personally. This was the case for me and an older client of HPM Insurance who always paid his bills in cash every month. I loved to see him walk through the door as he always had a smile on his face and a story to tell. This however was not the case one morning when he walked in to tell us that the only thing he had left were the clothes on his back.
His home burned to the ground earlier that morning after a windstorm knocked a utility pole onto his roof that had a generator attached to it. Luckily the insured was able to escape, however what was lost could not be replaced including a trunk brought over to America by his ancestors, a gold pocket watch owned by his grandfather and his mother's wedding china that was more than 100 years old. These precious items were lost in addition to the house he was born and raised in.
As an insurance professional, we are taught that insurance is intended to bring you back to the financial position you had before a loss. However after working with this particular client, it is clear that it is not all about the finances. Some items can simply never be replaced.
When I think about the claims I have worked with over the years, these three always come to mind first because they made me think differently about fire and its effects. As an insurance agency, we have obviously seen our clients experience kitchen fires, chimney fires and dryer fires. These are more common, but not less devastating to the client. What I try and pull from each incident is an understanding of what happened, and how it can be prevented in the future. By sharing some of these experiences, hopefully you can learn from them as well.