Slow burn over insurance hikes [The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg]

By Steve Vaughan, The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 23--JAMES CITY -- Some county residents, particularly those in the Stonehouse District, have endured spiraling homeowner insurance premiums all because their insurance companies say they live too far from the nearest fire station.

Stonehouse Supervisor Jim Kennedy didn't need to hear about it from constituents. His own premium ballooned, based on what he said is false information relied on by his insurance company.

"My homeowner's (policy) more than doubled and I am within one mile of the station," Kennedy said in an email Tuesday. "I spoke to my agent, who claimed we were downgraded due to response times of the station, proven to be untrue, and the fact it is a volunteer station, again untrue.

"It's a professional station," he continued. "And because I lived more than 5 miles from the station, again untrue."

Kennedy said he knows James City Fire Chief Tal Luton has heard from others in his area.

"Nationwide and Allstate appear to be doubling, tripling and more, based on their so-called information," Kennedy said.

Luton said in a recent phone interview that the fire department has been fielding calls on the issue for about two years.

"We hear it from all parts of the county," he said. "But particularly from Stonehouse, and from Stonehouse subdivision even more."

A fire department spokesman said Tuesday that the information comes from the Insurance Services Office, which has three ratings measuring how far from a fire station and a fire hydrant a home is located. If the distance exceeds five miles from a fire station, it doesn't matter how close a fire hydrant is.

Contributing to the problem is that insurance companies don't count proximity to volunteer fire stations. The station a mile from Kennedy's house is called the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Station, even though all the firefighters who work out of the station are full-time professional firefighters.

"They should know," Luton said. "We've told them, and the ISO rating reflects that it's a professional station."

In addition, insurance companies base the distance rating on driving distance, not the actual radius (see map). Aside from Sycamore Landing, Riverview Plantation and the eastern ends of Newman Road and Riverside Drive, nearly every home in James City sits within five miles of a fire station. Curvy roads, however, add distance and can warp the circle.

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Luton said the fire department has driven to some addresses as a service, measuring the driving distance. He's encountered one homeowner who was exactly five miles away. The insurer invoked the higher rate because the front door of the home was not within five miles.

Nationwide representative Brenda Williams said it's oversimplifying to say someone's homeowner's insurance has doubled or tripled just because of distance from a fire station.

"That's the protection clause," she explained. "It's a range from one to ten, with ten being no protection," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. "It's not that simple."

Luton said the county as a whole is rated a 4 on the scale, with the lower the number the better.

"That's one factor," Williams said, referring to distance. "But there are thousands of factors. How old is the home? What style of home is it? Is it a brick house or a frame house?"


(c)2013 The Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg, Va.)

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