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NEWS | Oct. 15, 2014

Gone in a flash

By Lt. j.g. Danielle Donnelly Naval Health Clinic Charleston

"This is a date you'll remember for the rest of your life."

That was what the Red Cross worker told me and my husband the day our home burned down. She was right.

That date was Jan. 21, 2014  - the day our apartment building went up in flames, and so too, did most of our belongings.

We lost nearly everything. Thankfully, we were safe, but most of our possessions had been destroyed. Our only saving grace was a fire-proof safe that had protected our most important documents from the fire.

Just eight months prior, a relative had given us that fire-proof safe as a wedding gift. In it we had filed away our social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports, the rental agreement, spare checkbooks and car titles.

I can only imagine how extremely difficult and time-consuming it would have been for us to replace these items, if we had no form of ID or proof of citizenship, and now no mailing address to have replacements sent. 

We did have renters' insurance. In fact, I remember reading over the insurance contract before signing it and learning the meaning of "personal liability." Personal liability is basically there to cover yourself from lawsuits filed against you and the landlord if, for example, someone on your premises slips and hurts themselves because of your rug. It does not actually cover your personal belongings in the event of a fire or flood. Unfortunately, there were a handful of people in my apartment building who did not understand the difference and signed up for the policy that only covered personal liability and not their personal belongings; they received no compensation after losing everything. My husband and I fortunately had our household items covered and received a check from the insurance company a little over a month after the fire.

But in the meantime, we had nothing. No home. No clothes. No possessions.
It was by the support from friends, family and the community that we were able to recover so quickly. We were genuinely surprised and grateful for the generosity of our coworkers, fellow Sailors and family members who quickly came together to aid us in our time of crisis. They made donations of furniture, gift cards, clothes, blankets, cooking utensils and toiletries. More importantly, they offered sagely advice and emotional support. The housing office helped move us into a home on base. The Red Cross was also a great resource for us. In fact, on the day of the fire, the Red Cross was there handing out emergency fund cards, bathroom toiletries, clothes, Goodwill vouchers, contact numbers for counseling, and more to the survivors.

Often times catastrophic events like a fire, can destroy people's lives or put them on hold. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, catastrophic events account for nearly 30 percent of homelessness. How a single event can change a person's life so drastically is indeed a frightening thought. People with no safety nets and no social support have a much harder time recovering, or may never recover at all.

With most of our family in Indiana, they could only do so much for my husband and I at the time, which is why I am especially grateful to my wonderful coworkers and fellow Sailors for being there for us. I am also grateful that we have charitable organizations like the Red Cross and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Without these social safety nets, I have no doubt that my family and I would have ended up becoming homeless.

No matter where one lives, it is always wise to take precautions ahead of time. Renters insurance and a fire-proof safe made a huge difference in how quickly we were able to rebuild our lives. After reflecting on what had happened to us and what could have happened as a result of the fire, I now fully appreciate the importance of renter's insurance, a fire-proof safe, and outside help from my friends, family, and the community.