Earlier this month, Albemarle County announced the opening of Station 15, a $2.2-million fire-and-rescue station housed in a University of Virginia warehouse on Ivy Road.
The station was built to improve coverage in western Charlottesville and Ivy.
A third goal, as described at a public meeting in 2011, was to protect Ivy homeowners from skyrocketing insurance premiums. Dan Eggleston, fire and rescue chief for Albemarle County , hopes that still will be the case.
“We have seen a lot of improvement in the [emergency] response time,” he said. “We may see better insurance rates for individuals in Ivy.”
Local insurance agents said changes in rates would vary.
“The station will definitely help people living out there in Ivy,” said Shonna Durham, an agent for Duncan-Brown Insurance. “I’m speaking from experience — if you live within a five-mile radius of a new fire station, your rates will go down.”
Duncan-Brown is one of many agencies that calculate their rates based on the Public Protection Class assigned by a company called the Insurance Services Office. The class is a rating of the local fire department’s ability to respond to an emergency. Class 1 indicates the best fire protection, and Class 10, the worst.
“The ISO has not updated the Public Protection Class for Ivy,” Durham said. “But we’re keeping an eye on it.”
On July 11, the ISO reported that it did not yet recognize the Ivy station, but that it would as soon as Albemarle County conducted a new field survey.
“We have to bring the data up to speed for the homes within a five-mile radius of the station,” Eggelston said.
Marsha Moran, a representative of Hanckel -Citizens Insurance Corporation, hopes that will be soon.
“We don’t have any idea how soon the ISO will approve the paperwork,” she said. “But we’re waiting, because we have so many customers that it would help out.”
Some agencies — such as State Farm, Virginia ’s largest insurance company — do not base their rate calculations on the Public Protection Class.
“The increased fire protection is a great step for the community, but it does not guarantee that premiums will go down,” said State Farm spokesperson Anna Bryant.
This is because State Farm factors fire protection into its ratemaking process indirectly. Rates fall eventually if people rely less on their insurance coverage in the event of a fire. If improved fire protection prompts more insurance companies to do business in the area, that could cause rates to drop, Bryant said.
“If the severity of damage to homes declines in an area where fire and rescue can respond more quickly, we should see downward pressure on rates over time, if all else remains constant,” said State Farm agent Gary Albert.
Albert added that the onus is on individuals to decide whether they are getting the best rate.
“Each company uses their own model to determine the rate that a carrier needs to charge,” he said. “It’s up to the consumer to determine if that rate is appropriate for their coverage and service, and customer experience requirements.”
But many homeowners remain unaware of the new station’s presence, let alone the chance to secure lower homeowners insurance rates.
“I feel uninformed,” said Michele Bushrow, of Ivy. “I didn’t know we got a new fire station.”
“I don’t know if my insurance rates are lower,” said another Ivy homeowner, Jane Kulow. “If I even look at my insurance bill, I get angry.”
The next area that may see a new station — and potentially lower home insurance rates — is Pantops .
“[Albemarle County] owns land for a station on Pantops , but it’s uncertain when it will be built,” Eggleston said. “Right now we’re just running ambulances out of the Martha Jefferson Hospital up there.”