MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It was a double-whammy for Staff Sgt. David Banner Rogers.

While on leave to attend his grandmother’s funeral in June, he received a phone call from Misawa: “Your house caught on fire.”

The blaze in government quarters 817B was contained to a hallway closet, the hallway and a small section of living room, but smoke and soot damage was extensive and pervasive.

“If you opened up my garlic salt container, you wouldn’t smell garlic salt, you would smell smoke,” Rogers said. “It was everywhere.”

He and his family lost personal goods worth an estimated $25,000, from a new couch to a digital camera. The only room left unscathed was the kids’ toy room.

“‘Tickle Me Elmo’ made it out alive,” Rogers said.

But the weapons-loader crew chief with 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is thanking his lucky stars he’s not the typical Misawa fire victim. Of 11 reported house fires affecting personnel in the past 19 months, he’s the only one to have renter’s insurance, base housing officials said.

“The majority think the government will pay … I’ve informed them the government does not pay,” said housing flight chief Jim Carey. “They’re not in the business of insuring people’s property.”

Expecting the government to foot the bill after a house fire has been an ongoing problem at Misawa.

After a spate of fires in 2004, base officials said there was much discussion about whether renter’s insurance could be required. Air Force officials decided against making it mandatory because, Carey said, “We would be telling them they must spend money.”

So they began a publicity campaign in spring 2005. The current rule, Carey said, is that people must be advised of renter’s insurance.

The Air Force can require car insurance, however, because it’s Japanese law, he added.

The housing office pitches renter’s insurance to all newcomers, Carey said. The information, part of a required computer briefing, appears regularly in the housing newsletter. He said most car insurance agencies off base also sell renter’s coverage, as do real estate agencies, for about $100 per year or less.

Local companies usually also will cover damage from earthquakes, flooding and excessive snow, he said.

Rogers pays $23 per month through stateside carrier USAA. After the fire, $1,000 was transferred to his bank account at once for expenses such as new uniforms, a change of clothes and food. A $700 hotel bill for three weeks in lodging was covered, as was $6,000 paid to professional cleaners to recover as many personal items as possible. His policy covers up to $74,000 in personal property, he said.

Some policies also will cover structural damage to government housing, Carey said. But Rogers said that because the cause of the fire in his home can’t be determined, he’s off the hook there.

If “simple negligence” — such as unattended cooking — causes a fire, then occupants can be billed up to one month’s salary for any damage to government property.

Since the fire, Rogers has been encouraging his squadron members and people he meets on base to get renter’s insurance.

“I even asked the master sergeant giving my wife her ultrasound whether he had renter’s insurance,” Rogers said. “He didn’t.”

Without renter’s insurance, he added, “I easily would be 10 grand in the hole, with no hope of anybody else stepping in to cover the cost.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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