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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.

Posted by Dustin Theriault on Fri, Jun 21 2013 3:08 pmDustin Theriault is a property claim field senior adjuster for American Family Insurance in Denver.

Colorado Black Forest fire keeps American Family on alert

Colorado wildfire updateIt’s a familiar experience for American Family Insurance claims teams – prepared on the periphery of a natural disaster scene, anticipating the all-clear from authorities to get into the damaged area and begin helping our customers.

In this case, the Black Forest wildfire northeast of Colorado Springs already is being described in the news media as the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history.  Officials say the wildfire has caused two deaths and destroyed at least 380 homes. More than 38,000 residents have been evacuated.

As of Friday morning (June 14, 2013), American Family had received 26 claims for destroyed homes, three claims for destroyed business properties and more than 50 claims for smoke damage or additional living expenses for customers ordered to evacuate from their homes.

Overlaying the fire observations provided by law enforcement with American Family’s maps showing where our customers live, our claims teams will know where to focus once the fire subsides.

Our responders are using waiting time wisely, preparing to spring into action once authorities allow us to enter the fire zone.

  • We’ve dispatched 15 adjusters to the site with three catastrophe managers. This on-site team will be supported by adjusters at other locations, serving as additional contacts for customers who have the most severe damage.
  • We’ve set up our catastrophe response vehicle at the Colorado Springs Civic Center, and we also staffed a second evacuation center at Palmer Ridge High School.
  • And, we’re sending a second response vehicle to the area, to be stationed at one of the primary evacuation sites set by the local authorities.

As firefighters continue to battle the wildfire, American Family is poised to fulfill our role when the flames and smoke clear. We are here in Colorado Springs … and we are here to help. 

Report a claim with American Family Insurance.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

Posted by Steve Witmer on Fri, Jun 14 2013 2:20 pmSteve Witmer is a media relations manager for American Family Insurance.