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Homes, businesses paying higher insurance rates

Many located too far from fire hydrants, fire stations in Duval County

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Are you paying more to insure your home or business and don't even know it? Probably.

Twenty-three thousand homes and businesses in Duval County are located in areas where it costs more to insure them.  Why?  The insurance industry, using data accumulated by the Jacksonville Fire Department, sets its rates based on a home or businesses' distance from the closest fire station and fire hydrant.  It assigns a number between 1 and 10 to these areas of Duval County based on those distances. Ten is the worst. 

For example, if your home or business is more than 1,000 feet from a fire hydrant, then you live in an area rated a PC 8, or Protection Class 8.  You will be charged more money to insure your property than a home closer to a fire hydrant.  Additionally, if your property is also more than 5 miles from the closest fire station, then the area is rated a 10.  This map shows PC 8 areas of the city marked in yellow.  The red color indicates areas in a PC 10 rating.  Green, is good, generally a PC 1- PC 3.

These ratings are based on risk.  The farther your home or business is from a fire hydrant or closest fire station, the longer it might take to extinguish a fire, which causes more damage, triggering a more expensive claim filed with your insurance carrier.

INTERACTIVE: Find your ZIP code on the insurance rate map at the end of this story

While many of the homes and businesses paying higher rates are in rural parts of the county, we found several homeowners who live in heavily populated areas in Arlington, Mandarin, on the Southside, Westside and on the Northside who fall in these PC 8 and PC 10 areas.

We discovered, many of these homeowners never thought to ask about the areas' PC rating when they were buying their house and have no idea they are even paying more for insurance.

Rebecca Brown, lives near Oakleaf Village, an area rated a PC 10.  She says she never knew to ask about the distance and picked her home, instead, based on the school district.  She was stunned to hear she could be paying $1,200 to $1,500 more a year for homeowner's insurance.  "Wow, I wasn't aware of that," she said.

Ted, who did not want to give his last name concerned his insurance carrier might increase his rates even more, tells us his rate went up again this year, by about $250.  He is not happy about the increase, but is relieved he can even get coverage explaining what happened when he tried to find an insurance carrier with lower rates, "we won't quote you, we won't quote you and these are good quality insurance companies.  But we won't quote you because of the distance (from the closest fire station), he said."

Ted, lives in Hampton Park, a community of more than 300 homes off Gate Parkway and 295, on the Southside.  It's ZIP code 32256.  He lives deep within the community, extending the distance his home stands from the closest fire station, number 44.  It is 5.7 miles away from Hampton Park.  That extra seven-tenths of a mile is a big deal when it comes to insurance rates.

Jeff Stoneking, with Brightway Insurance, said some insurance carriers stick to the 5 mile distance, anything more, they charge more.  He has found other insurance companies will extend the limit though, to keep the rates lower.  He pulled some numbers for us to compare.  One carrier quoted a 2,600 square foot house, built in 2005, valued at $350,000 and located in a PC 10 area at $3,074 a year.  That same exact house in a PC 1 neighborhood, cost $1,565 to insure for a year.  That's a difference of about $1,500.

All these higher premiums really add up for Duval County residents.  The fire department said there are 15,037 homes and businesses in the PC 8 areas.  There are another 7,927 homes/businesses in the PC 10 areas.  Collectively, these property owners are paying some $32 million in higher costs every year as a result.

City councilman Daniel Becton represents District 11, which includes Hampton Park.  He said he is working closely with Fire Chief Kurt Wilson, to secure the funding from the full council to build a fire station closer to the homes, like the ones in Hampton Park. 

He said there are several other neighborhoods within his district that also fall within that PC 10 designation, Spyglass, Camellia at Deerwood, Hacienda Club and Sweetwater.  These communities are more than 5 miles from the closest fire station.  To bring down the rates, he said a fire station needs to be built closer to the homes on the east side of Interstate- 295. 

We asked Becton if there is something that can be done sooner than waiting for a fire station to be built, he said, "Perhaps while we are waiting for a permanent fire station, maybe put in a temporary fire house."  He added, "The fire chief tells me this has been done before and he has a fire engine that is available and we can erect a low cost structure."

Fire chief Kurt Wilson told us a temporary fire house is a possibility.  But it will take the entire city council to approve it.  He said once they find a strip mall or piece of property that can be rented or leased, it would take about 4 months to build a temporary structure.  "That would be the quickest alternative to a regular fire station," said Wilson.  He acknowledges a new station on the Southside and one on the Westside are needed, but said his hands are tied since it's up the city council to allocate the funding.

Another area of the county that is heavily populated, with homes located in a PC 10 region, is around Oakleaf Village, this is in ZIP code 32244, near the intersection of Old Middleburg and Collins roads.  We spoke with City councilman Doyle Carter, he said he is working with his colleagues to also get funding to build a new station near that intersection. 

There is some encouraging news.  So many people complained when these designations were created by the insurance industry about 4 years ago, that the fire department has worked with JEA, which is responsible for installing fire hydrants, to add more of them hydrants.  JFRD has also strategically placed tanker trucks near these PC 8 areas, so that the rating system will drop in these areas.  As a result, starting in April, the map is changing.  All PC 8 areas in Jacksonville will now fall to PC 1 designation.  This is what the new map will look like, green is good, it is PC - PC 3 depending on your house, its age and size. 

What you should do now if you live in a PC 8 area

Starting next month, any homeowners or business owners in these PC 8 areas should call their insurance agent and ask for a new quote.  Even if your insurance policy does not renew in April, the insurance agency is changing the designations and it could save you a lot of money.

COMPARE: ISO rating maps before and after April 2016

You can check the Protection Class rating where you live with the interactive map below.  If your home is near a border between two different zones, it's best to double-check your exact designation with your insurance provider.

READING ON THE APP: Click here to see interactive map of Duval County ISO fire ratings


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