CALDWELL, Idaho — It was a little after 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night last April when Jeff Pearce was startled awake from a deep sleep by the shrill screams of his mother-in-law. Thinking there was a burglar in the house, he ran downstairs from his bedroom, pistol in hand.
He found no intruder but when he went outside he saw that the roof of his house was engulfed in flames. He helped his mother-in-law to safety and then ran back inside for his wife, three dogs and cat.
His house was not the only thing going up in flames. Seven years earlier Jeff had suffered a work-related accident that forced him to pursue a different career path.
Now facing a life-long disability and the inability to work normal hours, Jeff had focused all of his recent efforts on a home-based business that was now a casualty of the same inferno that was engulfing his home.
His house was insured, but his business was not. To add insult to injury, as he stood there in the middle of his street watching his home and business burn, carpetbaggers representing restoration and reconstruction companies arrived with contracts in hand, soliciting cleanup work as the smoke rose into the Caldwell sky.
You have to be kidding, Jeff thought.
He would soon find this would only be the beginning of his trials and tribulations.
The Day After
That night, the Caldwell Fire Department put Jeff and his family up in a hotel. So there they were, literally with only the shirts on their backs, staying in unfamiliar lodging with most of their worldly possessions damaged or destroyed.
Jeff’s wallet was gone as well as his driver’s license, credit cards and other necessary documents that anybody would use on a daily basis. Birth certificates, passports, invoices, prescriptions, checkbooks — all gone.
Luckily, no one was hurt in the fire and the following morning, after a restless night, Jeff, his, wife Shelli, mother-in-law Nancy Riley and son Kyle came back to their home and scoured the grounds for any item that could be salvaged.
The four family members stumbled around their former home in shock and disbelief, hoping this was all a bad dream and they would all soon wake up from the nightmare.
Jeff didn’t know what to do next, and his agent wasn’t much help. He did give Jeff the numbers of the claims adjuster and fire inspector. Jeff made some calls but with very little satisfaction. He had to wait four days before the fire inspection could take place. The first time he actually met with any insurance personnel was Monday morning. He hadn’t slept in a week. The agent left on vacation directly after Jeff made his first contact.
He was supposed to get some emergency cash for basic supplies but it took nine days for the first check to arrive.
His adjuster wouldn’t approve his rental home, so for two weeks he and his wife stayed in the hotel and felt like forgotten souls. His mother-in-law and Kyle were staying with his daughter, Jessica, in Nampa. The independent adjuster wouldn’t answer any questions and was hard to reach as well.
There were items still left in the house that he wanted to save but was told he couldn’t. He was getting no help from his agent or the adjuster. He had been paying his insurance premiums for years and never made a claim. Now that he needed help he couldn’t get it.
He couldn’t get any answers. He had questions about all of his family’s personal belongings from hiking boots to computers.
If somebody would just do their job, he thought, and talk him through it, things would be better. He had never been through a fire before and he just needed some guidance.
Jeff was having to pay out of his own pocket for whatever he needed. He felt there was a lot of stuff that could have been saved or restored, but both his agent and the adjuster told him it all had to be replaced. His frustration level was off the charts.
The Lesson Learned
Jeff is basically the poster child for how agents and adjusters Should Not do their job. The reality of the agent and client relationship is that an agent is more than just a sales person. The agent must facilitate the client’s needs in an emergency. That should be his number one priority. Everything else is secondary.
However, no one from Jeff’s insurer made any attempt to stay in touch and assure him that everything was going to work out. Jeff had been left high and dry, and in light of all the water damage, that wasn’t a good place to be.
There are certain principles that an agent must follow. First, there has to be an open channel of communication between the client and the agent. Even when the adjuster is the individual making all the critical calls, the agent has to let the client know that there is an end result to the process.
It must be understood that the adjuster has a job and the client has needs, so it is up to the agent to be the liaison between the two parties and keep all lines of communication clear and open.
And last, but certainly not least, the agent has to make things happen. When a dilemma develops after a disaster, as it often will, it’s the agent’s obligation to give aid and comfort to the client when they need it most.
Sometimes it takes going the extra mile and it may be an inconvenience to the agent, but the agent has to remember what the client is going through. So the three critical steps for an agent in helping a client through a disaster are to communicate, mediate, and facilitate.
An agent can’t turn back time, but when a disaster strikes he or she should, at the very least, be able to soften the blow.
The fire moved through the attic of the two-story
home caving in the ceiling of the bedrooms where
the Pearce family slept just moments before the
The fire started on the east side of the home and quickly rose up two-
story exterior, never tripping the smoke alarms inside the house.