It was the early hours of the morning on October 19, 2014 when Jean-Marc Lechmann and his family’s lives would change forever.
The Sylvan Lake residents’ Falcon Close home was completely destroyed by a fire leaving the family displaced.
Nearly two years has passed since tragedy struck the Lechmann’s and still the fire affects Jean-Marc’s life on a daily basis.
Having recently watched the wildfires unfurl in northern Alberta, Lechmann has decided to share his journey over the last two years in hopes of helping both displaced persons from the Fort McMurray area and future victims of house fires to cope with factors following a fire.
Since that fateful day nearly two years ago, Lechmann has spent much of his waking time dealing with insurance companies, his lawyer and other casualties of displacement.
He been served two eviction notices by landlords despite being a victim of displacement, contested multiple claims with insurance and has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
“It’s been mentally the hardest thing I’ve gone through in my life,” said Lechmann.
The first ‘hiccup’ following the fire for Lechmann and his family came in December of 2014. His insurance company had instructed them to purchase any items they may need such as clothes for winter or supplies for his children. They were instructed to pay for the items up front and told they would be reimbursed.
It wouldn’t be until the following August the Lechmann’s would see reimbursement for the $28’000 it took to replace the items they needed to get back to day to day life, meaning they had to put themselves into debt during that time to ensure they had what they needed.
During the winter following the fire, the insurance company was responsible for paying a displacement cheque to the landlord of their rental property. In the 21 months Lechmann has been displaced, he stated insurance had been late to pay the displacement cheque eight times.
This led to a number of eviction notices and tumultuous living circumstances for the Lechmann’s.
It was in this time it became glaringly apparent he would be in need of legal advice and counsel. Lechmann added ‘any victim of a fire who doesn’t already have a lawyer is kidding themselves’.
Retaining a lawyer has played a financial toll on Lechmann, leaving him to ask the question, ‘How many people have $20,000 set aside to retain a lawyer after they lose their house in a fire? Because that’s what you’ll need.”
Perhaps one of the most strenuous experiences over the course of the insurance process came for Lechmann at the time of the rebuild. He explained the insurance company repeatedly offered him a settlement for an amount less than the cost of the home. This delayed the rebuild of his home by nearly six months.
Lechmann explained following a fire, insurance companies ask for proof of purchase for any items over $200. Here is where their real challenge would lay.
“When your house burns down, no one gives you a list – they just tell you to start writing down what you remember,” he recalled of the weeks after the fire. “Everything in the house was gone. We had nothing. No receipts. They told us to go through old bank accounts.”
Lechmann suggests that twice a year, individuals go through their house, room by room and take a video recording to document their possessions. Ideally this process would take place after Christmas and again in the summer.
“Spend two minutes in every room with your smart phone and video record,” said Lechmann. “Open drawers look what’s in it – just to remind yourself – because in a year the list we had originally given to the insurance company to what we had remembered was almost $40,000 more.”
Over the course of the past two years Lechmann’s life has changed in many ways, however one constant has remained – the support from every corner of the community.
In the months immediately following the fire the family was overwhelmed by the support of Sylvan Lake. Minor football associations covered the costs of their lost prescriptions; local oilfield companies provided tools and clothing; in addition to local gym owner, Scott McDermott cooking the family home cooked meals.
Still to this day Lechmann is astonished by the magnitude of support demonstrated by members of the community.
“If it wouldn’t have been for members of the Sylvan Lake community who stepped up and helped us in a big way following the fire we wouldn’t have been able to make it this far,” he said gratefully. “