Resurrecting dreams from the ashes of the Black Forest Fire

Colorado wildfiresThe Black Forest wildfire near Colorado Springs has grown into the most destructive in the state’s history. More than 500 homes were destroyed, including close to 50 insured by American Family Insurance.

When I heard about the Black Forest fire, I thought, “Our customers are going to need my help, and I better organize my thoughts, now!”

As I post this, we await full access into what they call the Black Forest “burn scar,” to meet with customers and inspect their properties with an eye toward identifying coverage under their policies.

Even though the authorities have not declared the area to be safe enough for full public access, we’ve already started our customers on the path to recovery. You can see photos of American Family's catastrophe team onsite in Colorado here.

I’ve met with six American Family Insurance customers whose homes were destroyed in the wildfire, at three to three-and-a-half hours per meeting. We talked about the overall claims experience, discussing the coverage available under their policies and setting expectations for upcoming steps in the claim process.

I make sure they understand all of the issues. My job is to make this as easy as possible for them. Starting over after losing your home to fire is nothing short of a major life transition, and I want that transition to be as smooth as possible. We compensate our customers for additional living expenses and advance them a portion of the personal property lost in the fire.

Empathy always is a valuable attribute for an insurance claims representative — or for any other customer service occupation, for that matter — but it’s especially important in situations like this.

Growing up, we had a total loss fire at my house. My uncle fell asleep while smoking, and we lost the entire house and everything in it. All the family photos and other things that were important to us and can’t be replaced … gone.

When I talk to our customers about their situations, I tell them “I know what you’re going through.”

The Black Forest area was special, a heavily wooded Shangri-la that served as a joyful haven for thousands of residents. It might be hard to envision amidst the heavily charred tree trunks and fire-distorted remains of homes, outbuildings and vehicles, but the Black Forest area will come back again.

My job is to help them see that their dreams are not lost; they’re only on “pause.” By treating customers with dignity, respect and compassion, and paying them fairly for their covered losses, American Family Insurance is living up to our reputation as the protector of dreams.

And I’m sure glad I can be a part of it.

Editor’s note: American Family Insurance customers affected by the Colorado wildfires can report claims by contacting our 24-hour Customer Care Center, 1-800-MY-AMFAM (692-6326), their local agent or by completing our online insurance claim form. Visit our website for answers to common questions about wildfire claims.

by Dustin Theriault on Fri, Jun 21 2013 4:08 pm
Posted by Dustin Theriault on Fri, Jun 21 2013 4:08 pmDustin Theriault is a property claim field senior adjuster for American Family Insurance in Denver.

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