What to expect after a fire

You are not alone after you experience a fire. Waterloo Fire Rescue is here to guide you through the recovery.

On this page

  1. What to expect from Waterloo Fire Rescue
  2. Actions to take in the first 24 hours
  3. Understanding your insurance obligations
  4. Guide to re-entering your home the first time
  5. Disaster recovery for people and belongings

What to expect from Waterloo Fire Rescue

During the fire:

  • Waterloo Fire Rescue will work to extinguish the flames
  • they may use ventilation tactics such as breaking windows and cutting holes in the walls or roof to limit the spread of the fire or find hotspots
  • Waterloo Fire Rescue may contact Red Cross to offer practical and emotional support

After the fire:

  • Waterloo Fire Rescue crews will ensure that utilities are either safe to use or are disconnected before they leave the fire scene
  • Waterloo Fire Rescue personnel  will tell you when you can move your car
  • Waterloo Fire Rescue personnel will tell you when it is safe to enter after a fire
  • Waterloo Fire Recue personnel  may be able to retrieve your important valuables or you may be able to enter the site accompanied by Waterloo Fire Rescue personnel

Depending on the cause of the fire and the extent of the damage, fire prevention personnel may conduct an investigation. You can expect:

  • investigators from Fire Prevention Division, Office of the Fire Marshal, Waterloo Regional Police Service, City of Waterloo’s building, property standards or bylaw departments, Technical Standards and Safety Authority, the utility companies or Electrical Safety Authority may attend
  • the property will be in the possession of the investigators during this time – not the homeowner
  • Waterloo Fire Rescue will return possession of the building to the owner once the fire is out and an investigation is complete

To obtain a copy of the Standard Incident Report send proof of home ownership and the request to fire@waterloo.ca

Actions to take in the first 24 hours

This information is relevant immediately after the fire. Topics include securing yourself and the fire site.

Immediate needs following a fire:

  • temporary housing
  • food
  • medicine
  • eyeglasses
  • weather-appropriate clothing
  • pet needs

To do and not to do right after a fire

  1. Have all injuries, no matter how minor, attended to by medical personnel, and be mindful about the effects of smoke inhalation. Problems can appear or last after the fire has been put out. Contact your doctor if symptoms include a persistent cough, wheezing, vomiting, high temperature or breathing difficulties.
  2. If you are insured, contact your agent or insurance company as soon as possible. If you are not insured, your recovery from a fire loss will be based on your own resources and help from the community.
  3. Inform the company holding your mortgage that there has been a fire at the property.
  4. Inform your landlord if you are a tenant.
  5. Do not enter until Waterloo Fire Rescue tells you it is safe to do so. You will not be allowed to take any items (i.e. couches, TVs, computers, appliances) as they may have caused the fire. If an investigation into the cause of a fire is ongoing, it may be illegal for you or your insurance representatives to enter the property. 
  6. Do not attempt to turn on utilities (including water, electricity and natural gas) yourself.  Contact the utility company directly for assistance.
  7. Do not consume food, beverages or medicine that are inside the property.
  8. If your car is burned or damaged by debris, do not start it or move it. 
  9. Once you have possession of the building ensure the property is secured (boarding up windows and holes and locking doors) by a restoration company. This should be organized through your insurance company.
  10. Your insurance company will provide next steps for hiring a restoration company and for repairs to be completed.
  11. From the day of the fire onward, be careful to record all expenses and keep all receipts.

If you need to leave your home, notify these people of your temporary change of address:

  • friends and family
  • employers
  • schools
  • at least one neighbour

Notify these organizations:

  • delivery services (i.e. newspaper)
  • Canada Post (reroute or hold mail)
  • utility companies
  • your bank
  • your insurance company
  • credit card companies
  • Waterloo Regional Police Service
  • Waterloo Fire Rescue

Understanding insurance and making a claim

Your insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurer. The insurer promises to do certain things for you. In turn, you have certain obligations. If you don't have a copy of your insurance policy, ask for one. Ensure you understand what is covered and what is not covered.

Your duties after a fire loss include:

  • if you are insured give immediate notice of the loss to the insurance company or the insurer’s agent
  • use a restoration company to protect the property from further damage
  • making an inventory of damaged personal property by showing in detail the quantity, description, what you paid for the items when purchased, how long you have had these items, the amount of damage they sustained and how much it would cost to replace them
  • include with the inventory any bills or documents that can help establish the value of belongings
  • schedule a walk through of the location with the agent or their representative once you have been given permission to do so from Waterloo Fire Rescue

Submit a formal statement of loss within a stated time period (usually 30-60 days).The statement of loss usually includes:

  • time and cause of the loss
  • names and addresses of those who have an interest in the property such as the mortgage holder, a separated or divorced spouse or a lien holder
  • building plans and specifications of the original home and a detailed estimate for repairs
  • inventory of damaged property
  • receipts for additional living expenses and loss-of-use items

Recommendations to help you keep track of the details are:

  • use one notebook to track phone calls, notes and everything related to the fire
  • remember to include name of person spoken to, dates and times for all entries
  • make a note of due dates related to the claims process
  • use a second notebook to track all expenses
  • if your insurance company wants to see an invoice or bid, make a copy and keep the originals

If the insurance company offers you a payment, ask if it is a partial or final payment. A final payment is their final offer and you may not be able to receive additional funds.

Guide to re-entering your home

The first time you re-enter a home should be with the insurance agent or fire official. Re-entering your home after a fire should happen during daylight hours to ensure you full visibility since your electricity may not be restored. Take a flashlight, even in the daylight hours.  Ask the insurance agent or fire official what personal protective gear you might need. Examples are safety boots, hard hat, gloves, eye or respiratory protection.

While you are touring the building ask officials what you will need to note and what you are allowed to touch. Take pictures of everything, inside and outside of the house.

Bring with you:

  • a camera and a way to make notes
  • a backpack to carry your supplies in or something that allows you to be hands-free
  • garbage bags to carry what you recover or can salvage
  • a tarp or tarps to cover large items that can be preserved

Be careful walking around your property. After a fire, steps and floors may be covered with debris, including nails and broken glass. Walls, roofs and remaining trees may be structurally unsafe.

If you encounter these hazards call 911:

  • downed lines or sparks
  • smell of burning with no visible fire
  • the “rotten eggs” odour that is added to gas

When you find your belongings take a picture, make a list of all the items you saw or recovered, record their serial numbers if available and their current condition for your insurance claim

  • take a picture of the item before you touch it
  • place each item to be kept in a plastic garbage bag
  • if large objects, like a sofa, are salvageable, cover them with a tarp
  • do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made
  • determine what cleaning tasks you will undertake or will hire professionals to handle

Disaster recovery resources

View the Canadian Red Cross website for helpful information about how to cope. They also have a Guide to Home Fire Recovery which contains information about restoring belongings and mental health guidance.

Take care of yourself and loved ones

Experiencing fire is a traumatic event that can result in loss of property or loved ones. This kind of loss is associated with feelings of grief and bereavement, which are increased by the stress involved in the fire recovery process.

Talk to someone you trust or seek counselling for you and your loved ones to help you recover. The Region of Waterloo lists advice and resources to support your mental health.

Contact your veterinarian for a health check and resources for supporting pets.

Restore your belongings

Fire creates two types of smoke damage – the visible soot and the invisible odour. Because each fire is different, it is not possible to provide one set of guidelines for removing soot and odour. For example, smoke odour from wood could react differently to certain cleaning products than smoke odour from plastics. It is usually difficult for inexperienced homeowners to remove soot and odours without professional assistance or advice. 

Belongings should be cleaned and restored by professional fire restorers. Speak to a restoration specialist about recovering clothing, furniture and your home's interior.

Be mindful of personal safety when recovering appliances and food:

  • don't use appliances that have been exposed to water and steam should not be used until you have a service representative check them
  • be aware that steam can remove the lubricant from some moving parts and create new hazards
  • call the electric or gas company to restore services and do not try to do it yourself 
  • do not use canned goods when they have bulged or are dented or rusted 
  • do not consume any perishable goods that have been exposed to the fire
  • do not re-freeze food that has been thawed