Hopefully you or someone you know or love will never be involved in a house fire. I completely lost my home and its contents in 2001. Having lived through the experience, I will admit it was not like I would have imagined it to be.
1. The most important things are the lives of your family members.
2. Keep good records and an inventory of your home at a second location, such as a safety deposit box. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, but a video of your home, both inside and out can be of great value later.
3. Be generous with family photos and baby photos. We lost all of ours. However, since we were so generous with family members, they still had copies. They were more than willing to copy them for us so that we could replace ours.
4. Copy your baby books/ wedding books. Give a copy to Grandma or save on disc in the safety deposit box. It also is a good idea to keep your birth certificates in there as well. If you do genealogy, keep a copy of your research in the box also. I lost thousands of hours of work.
5. Invest in a fireproof safe for your home. We have all learned to use the freezer. I can tell you the freezer will burn. It is the last to burn, but it can and will burn. Mine did. The documents stored in it were ruined. The plastic liner and insulation melted and entombed them.
6. Install proper safety features in your home. This includes smoke alarms, carbon detectors, fire extinguishers, escape ladders for the second floor.... Make sure things are charged and have good batteries. Make sure your family knows the escape route and where your family meeting place is.
7. Don't assume that since someone has insurance, they don't need help. I found out we still needed help, and we had excellent insurance. As soon as our agent arrived, we were given a check for $500 for things we needed "right now". This included changes of clothing, toiletries, diapers, food... I will tell you, that $500 did not go far. From that point on, we were reimbursed AFTER we had to pay up front. After checking with others fire survivors, the Red Cross, the fire department and other insurance companies, I found that was the norm. In fact, the Red Cross never even showed up. I found out later that in the area I lived in, for the Red Cross to show up, the homeowner has to request it. However, a wonderful couple from our church organized a food and clothing drive for us. This was held 3 days after the fire and was wonderful. We were given gift cards, diapers, food, gas cards, a new cell phone with lots of minutes, pet food, and pet carrier for our cat (who was also homeless now), an inexpensive camera and film to document with.... These items helped to tide us over until we started getting some reimbursement checks from our insurance company.
8. Check with your insurance company to see what type of coverage you have. Do you have enough coverage to cover rising instruction costs? Do you have replacement value or will your insurance only reimburse what you paid for an item when it was originally purchased.
9. Also check your insurance to see if you need to add a "rider" to cover certain items such as art, furs, jewelry, and antique cards. Also, some business items may not be covered-for instance, if you brought home a laptop from work and it were destroyed, your insurance may or may not cover it. If your car is parked in the garage or driveway will it be covered if damaged by the fire department or if the paint is blistered by heat?. Verify that outbuildings are covered. Ours were, but some friends of theirs were not. The fire blistered the paint of their shed and ruined the roof and they had to take care of that out of their own pocket.
10. Check with your local law enforcement agency and request extra police drive bys. We had problems with potential looters trying to take things from our house the first few nights. My father stayed outside the house in the driveway in his car and ran off several.