This information will assist you immediately after the fire.
After a fire or other emergency it may not be safe for you to stay in your home. The Fire Officer in Charge will advise you if it is safe to stay or not. In some situations the Officer may need to call the local council building inspector to assess the safety of the building.
As a result of the fire, gas, electricity, water supply or telephone lines may have been damaged, destroyed or disconnected by the fire brigade or the provider of these services.
It is the property owner’s responsibility to have the services inspected and repaired by a qualified tradesperson and reconnected by the provider.
After the emergency services have finished their work, the property will be handed back to you.
You are then responsible for the security of the property.
Your property may need to be protected from further damage by weather, theft and vandalism. You may need to engage a provider of shutters and/or temporary fencing to secure your home.
If you live in rental housing you must inform the real estate agent or owner/landlord to secure the home.
Be aware that any damage to your home that occurs after the emergency resulting from not securing your property may be refused by your insurance company. Your insurance company may be able to help with securing your property.
If you are insured, your insurance will be the most important single aspect of recovering from a fire loss.
After a fire loss, one of your first obligations is to immediately notify your insurance company or insurance broker. Advise the claims manager of the nature of the incident, the loss or damage, and provide them with a forwarding address and telephone number if circumstances have meant leaving the damaged home. In consultation with your insurance company, it is important you take steps to protect your property and implement reasonable precautions to prevent further damage or losses from weather, theft or vandalism, such as covering any holes in the roof or walls. The insurance company may refuse to pay losses that occur after the fire incident.
Make a list of damaged personal property, detailing the quantity, description, original purchase price, purchase date, damage estimate and replacement cost. Refer to your insurance contract for further advice.
It is important to coordinate with the insurance adjuster or loss assessor before contracting for any services. If you engage the services of any cleaning or repairs contractors without the insurance company’s knowledge or consent, you may be left with bills to pay that otherwise would have been covered by insurance. The sooner your insurer or their broker is notified; the sooner the insurance claim can be processed.
Do not discard or throw away damaged goods without first consulting your insurance company or before an inventory is made. If you cannot remember the name of your insurance company, or the details are not available, contact the Insurance Council of Australia (details can be found in the Yellow Pages).
• Ask your insurer for advice on actions you should take
• Do not discard or throw away damaged items without first consulting your insurance company
• Make a list of items that have been damaged and take photographs if possible
• Keep receipts for any emergency repair work
• Check with your insurance company to see if your policy covers emergency accommodation
If you can’t stay in your home
Before you leave the property, check with the Fire Officer in Charge that it is safe to enter. If it is safe to do so, it is recommended you take the following items:
• Identification – driver’s licence, Medicare card, passport
• Insurance contact details and policies
• Credit cards, cheque books
• Medicines and prescriptions (medication exposed to heat and smoke should be disposed of)
• Personal aids – mobility aids, glasses, hearing aids, etc
• Valuables – personal items such as jewellery, photographs, cash, laptops, etc
• Legal documentation
• Car keys and house keys
• Mobile phone and charger
Where to stay?
If you can’t remain in your property, staying with family, friends or neighbours until more permanent arrangements can be made is the best option. Some insurance policies may also cover the cost of accommodation.
Smoke and water can damage your house and contents. If you have insurance, your insurer / loss adjuster (person appointed by the insurance company to handle your claim) can assist by arranging specialist companies for cleaning, salvageand removal of damaged items and materials.
You may be able to salvage some item that are affected by heat, smoke or water but are otherwise intact. Keep in mind that damage to the property often goes beyond what the eye can see. Smoke and soot can travel and penetrate into other rooms affecting walls, carpet, upholstery, curtains, clothing and any other belongings.
Here are some general cleaning tips:
• Get the air moving. Open windows to ventilate areas. Use a fan to circulate air
• Dry wet items as soon as possible
• Take non-washable clothing and curtains to a drycleaner
• Wash regular clothing in warm water with detergent
• To remove soot and smoke from walls, furniture and floors, wear rubber gloves and wash with detergent
• Electrical appliances exposed to fire or water will need to be checked by an electrician or authorised service technician prior to use
If you are leaving your home:
• Organise somewhere to stay
• Take the personal items you will need
• Contact gas, electricity, water and telephone providers to cancel services
• Cancel all delivery services (e.g. Australia Post for redirect of mail, newspapers)
• Notify important contacts about your change of address such as employer, children’s schools, insurance company and neighbours
• Contact local police. Inform them that your property has been involved in a fire and is vacant
Your wellbeing - coping with a stressful event
It is normal and very common for people who have experienced stressful events to have very strong reactions such as anxiety, grief, sadness, anger, fatigue, body aches/pains, nightmares and difficulty concentrating. Children can also suffer after a stressful event, although these reactions may be more easily seen in their behaviours (for example, tantrums in young children). Understanding normal responses to these abnormal events can aid you in coping effectively with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours, and help you along the path to recovery.
Normal reactions to a stressful event can include (but are not limited to):
Cognitive (thinking) reactions
• Trouble thinking clearly, planning and making decisions
• Difficulty concentrating or remembering details
• Difficulty in stopping yourself thinking about the stressful event
• Thinking about other bad things that have happened in the past
• Trouble speaking clearly
• Tension, stress and tightness in muscles
• Feeling weak or tired, loss of energy
• Headaches, shaking, sweating, upset stomach or aches and pains
• Loss/increase of appetite, cravings for sugar, alcohol, coffee or cigarettes
• Feeling tired but can’t sleep, disturbed sleep or bad dreams
• Feeling numb, detached or disconnected
• Feeling irritable, bad-tempered or impatient, and/or unable to relax
• Feeling easily overwhelmed
• Sadness and grief, crying easily (or not being able to cry)
• Feelings are easily hurt, overly sensitive to what others say, feeling misunderstood
• Anger or blaming others
• Fear and anxiety, and feeling easily startled
• Feeling differently about the people close to you, the world, and/or you future
Looking after yourself
• Recognise that you have been through an extremely stressful event. Give yourself permission to feel bad and find positive ways to cope.
• Be more careful than usual. Following a traumatic event you are more vulnerable to illness and injury.
• Take care of yourself; get plenty of rest, even if you can’t sleep, eat regular, healthy meals and exercise every day(regular exercise can help to reduce the physical effects of trauma).
• Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope. Stimulants such as tea, coffee, cola, chocolate and cigarettes will make the feeling of being ‘hyped up’ worse. Using alcohol or other drugs to numb the pain will create more problems in the long term, even though they may seem to make things easier in the short term.
• Make time to relax and to focus on your self-care.
• Keep a routine going. Try to include exercise, work and relaxation in your schedule every day. Do one thing you enjoy every day.
• Try to resume normal activities as soon as possible (but don’t overdo it).
• Avoid making major life decisions too quickly. Focus on making daily decisions to start feeling in control of your life again.
• Spend time with people you care about. If you feel comfortable talking about feelings, this can help with the recovery process. Avoid becoming isolated.
• Express your feelings. For some people, writing about their experience can be helpful. Other ways to express your feelings that you may find helpful include drawing, painting, playing music etc.
Getting support and accepting help
Most people will recover over time with the support of family and friends. However, sometimes distressing events can be difficult to overcome and seeking professional help may be useful. Getting help can be uncomfortable for some people who are not used to accepting assistance, but seeking help is not a sign of weakness – it is another strategy to help you recover from the stressful event.
You don't need to be struggling or suffering severely to access help – the earlier you access support, the quicker your recovery will be. You may find it useful to talk to someone who is not a friend or family member like a counsellor, chaplain, medical doctor or psychologist. Seeking assistance may help you to regain emotional strength and resilience.
You should consider seeking professional help if you continue to experience strong reactions for more than two weeks after the event. If reactions continue for more than 4 weeks, seeking professional help is highly recommended.
You should also consider seeking professional help if you:
• feel very distressed, frightened, irritable or jumpy a lot of the time,
• are unable to carry out your normal roles at work, school and/or with your family,
• feel hopeless, despairing and think you can’t go on, or
• are thinking of harming yourself or someone else.
Where to get help:
Your doctor is a good place to start. They can also refer you to other service providers who may be able to help. Lifeline (13 11 14) provides confidential 24-hour counselling, support and referral. If you do not have family, friends or neighbours who can assist you, you may be eligible for assistance. The following organisations may be able to provide assistance:
For counselling and emotional support
13 14 50
Local Council Municipal Recovery Manager
For advice on local community support services
Consumer Affairs Victoria
If renting you may be entitled to end your tenancy or to reduced rent.
1300 558 181
Victorian Emergency Recovery Information Line
For information on hardship assistance
1300 799 232
Office of Housing and Community Buildings (DHHS)
For public housing renters
13 11 72 (24-hr service)
For Exceptional Circumstances Relief Help
13 28 50
For information regarding pets and animals
03 9224 2222