When the smoke clears: what happens after a devastating fire

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ABERDEEN, Miss. (WCBI) – When fires happen, firefighters are often the first on the scene, but the next person can sometimes be your insurance agent.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, almost 400,000 house fires occur in America every year.

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Being a firefighter comes with a lot of challenges.

Guyvester Dobbs Jr., a captain at Aberdeen Fire Department, faces those challenges head-on every single day.

He’s trained to arrive on the scene, assess the situation, and form a plan of action.

However, his toughest obstacle isn’t always the fire.

“When someone loses everything, you’ve lost all of the material things, but you’ve still got life and you’ve still got hope and prayer,” said Dobbs.

Those who don’t have family or friends in the area will often lean on first responders for emotional-support.

“Most of the time when you’ve got a house fire, families are very hurt and hysterical, crying,” said Dobbs.

Sometimes their first phone call is to their insurance agent.

“They will sometimes call my cell phone, and we tell them the steps to take. Once we give them our claims department number, we go out there and personally check on our customers as well,” said Patricia Ann Reese-Howell.

Howell has been in the insurance business for almost thirty years now.

She sees her clients as more than just a job.

“You really become, not only an insurance agent, but you become that person who’d there for them to comfort them… It doesn’t end at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, it doesn’t start at 9 o’clock in the morning or 8 o’clock in the morning. It’s a continuous thing,” said Howell.

When a home is ruled a total loss, the claims process can be lengthy.

“People really have to itemize what they had in their homes,” said agency manager Robert Mark McGowan.

When disaster strikes, McGowan said it’s always good to have a plan.

“A huge percentage of the population, their biggest asset is their home, so it’s vitally important to protect it,” said McGowan.

Captain Dobbs said with or without insurance, many fire victims rely on help from Organizations like Red Cross or members of the community.

“Kindness and love goes a long way,” said Dobbs.

McGowan said a total loss claim can take anywhere from three weeks to three months to process.

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