They are questions that hav come up over and over; “How can I help?”, “What do you need?”, “What can we do?”.
The generosity and support of our neighbors, our friends, and our community have been truly amazing. We are surrounded by kind, generous, and awesome people through which we would easily have many places we could stay, temporary homes for our dogs, and all the support in the world.
But, really, we — the Bumgarner family, specifically — are fine. We, through an odd coincidence, have a house to live in for the near term and our insurance company’s response has been incredible (enough so, that a whole post will be devoted to the insurance process).
The two neighbors that lost their houses have places to stay, too. While there losses are total, their immediate needs are covered (seriously — the Bumgarner family got off easy in this one!).
And, really, this is about the same story is it will be with any disaster where the families involved are both fully insured and live in a supportive community.
So, how can you help?
At the scene as it happens?
Get the person away from watching the destruction of all their worldly possessions. Take them into a home far enough away from the scene so as to not be able to directly watch, but close enough to still be available and “behind the lines”, so to speak.
A couple of neighbors did that for my wife, son, and dogs. It was a tremendous help. It provides a base of sanity and calm in between bouts of dealing with the chaos.
Just Be Available (But Don’t Interrogate)
Every person will process what has happened differently and at a different pace. Some won’t need much support at all, others may need lots. Some might need some very odd thing to make them whole again.
Providing the most basic of support through simply listening will be of great help.
Avoid interrogation. No, in the 48 hours after the event, we don’t know how long it’ll take to rebuild our house, we don’t know what the neighbors’ plans are and, no, it really isn’t helpful to suggest what the neighbors might do one way or another. We — all of us, neighbors whose houses were unaffected, too — are simply trying to get to tomorrow with one less set of variables hanging over our heads.
Host or Provide a Home Cooked Meal
On the night after the fire, a friend of ours showed up with a steak, potato and asparagus dinner. She set the table, served the meal and cleaned up. It was, truly, a wonderfully relaxing and therapeutic event.
Last night, another friend of ours brought over a gigantic pot of jambalaya and we had dinner with the family that lost their home. Their comment? “This is the first home cooked meal we’ve had and it is wonderful.”
So, really, something as simple as inviting the impacted families for a simple meal or taking a meal to them will provide more comfort than you can imagine.
Donate to the Red Cross
The Red Cross was on scene the evening of the fire and had a triage center set up at the nearest school. They found lodging for the one family that needed it and triple-checked that the rest of us really did have a viable living plan. Within 24 hours, the Red Cross had agents in the area to see if anyone needed any kind of support, including counseling to deal with the trauma of the event. This included support for all of those living in the neighborhood.
Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen To You!
More likely than not, this was initially an electrical fire. The houses in our neighborhood were all built in the early 1960s and many have the original breaker box with the original wiring. In particular, all of the houses were built with Zinsco electrical panels. They aren’t safe.
So, yes, you should, right now, go out, have a look at your electrical panel, and replace it if it is more than a few decades old or otherwise unsafe.
Same goes for your gas infrastructure. Go have a sniff around your meter. Or ask that the gas company bring a sniffer and simply check. In the wake of the fire, PG&E went door to door with a sniffer and checked for leaks. Sure enough, at least one neighbor had a leaky connection near the meter.