SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KTVU) - With the immediate emergency over in many affected neighborhoods, the long process of making insurance claims and rebuilding is just beginning. For claimants, depending on how insurers react, this can be a place to facilitate a new beginning or foster a fight.
Nine years ago, Petaluma State Farm insurance agent Miguel Alfaro converted a historical, former gas station. On that first, horrible night of the fires, Alfaro saw two huge fires in the mountains above his Santa Rosa home. "Heavy wind, a lot of wind that night," said Alfaro.
After midnight, with the fires closing in, Alfaro and most of his neighbors began leaving, thinking their neighborhood would burn. "We realized at that point that things were not good. We could hear the explosions happening up the road. You do the math. It's like, if this thing got here from Napa in three hours, in the next two hours, it's going to be here," said Alfaro.
The Alfaro's gathered up a pre-packed kit full of essential documents and mementos, their kids and dog and some friends all went to his Petaluma office. "We camped for a whole week. We were sleeping inside the office with our kids. We had a little neighbor join us and then a little friend came by with her three kids," said Alfaro.
One night ten people and one dog roomed together in Alfaro's converted gas station insurance office. Nonetheless, Alfaro was available to his clients and fielded many incoming customer calls. "For me to be, you know, 100% for there for them (clients), the first thing I needed to do was to make sure my family was safe. So that's why, as long as they were close to me, and here in a safer place, I knew we were able to deal with anything else," said Alfaro.
As many are learning, insurance claims are complicated, hard to understand and very bureaucratic given the huge sums of money involved.
But the State of California has put the insurance industry on notice that it expects customers to get what they paid for in a timely manner. "I think that this is a great opportunity for insurance companies to show how responsive they are to the community's need and the needs of the company's policy holders. I'd hate to have to have a big story about an insurance company that's just not being there for people at an incredibly vulnerable time," said Assemblyman Marc Levine (D) North Bay. In other words, take the Miguel Alfaro approach to customer service.
Alfaro's home survived the fire.