AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Senior Airman Carlton Dudley had only been a member of the 31st Fighter Wing for a few months when a friend called him at home one night last month and asked if he wanted to go out to a club.

In a rush to get out the door, Dudley forgot to extinguish a candle he had burning in his new apartment — so new that he hadn’t finished unpacking a shipment of household goods.

Many of those goods won’t be used again.

“I got home at 5 and I was ready to go to sleep,” said Dudley, assigned to the 31st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron on base.

But that candle had started a fire. It destroyed a couch and other items and the smoke it generated caused extensive damage to not only his personal property but also the apartment.

“Everything that used to be white is black,” Dudley said, shaking his head. “All the other rooms had soot damage.”

“It was a bad day,” he said. “But not as bad as it could have been.”

That’s because Dudley has renter’s insurance through USAA. So he expects to be compensated for most of his losses.

The walls of Dudley’s apartment — like most in Italy and across Europe — are made of concrete. So the apartment didn’t come close to burning down. In fact, Dudley was the first one to discover the fire, which had essentially burned itself out, when he returned home.

In addition to his couch, he lost a computer, two television sets and other items.

“I estimate it’s going to be somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000,” he said of the losses. Much of that should be covered by the insurance, he said.

Most American military communities around Europe brief newcomers about getting renter’s insurance, liability insurance or something similar.

Janine Bondifee, a liaison for the housing office for U.S. Army Garrison-Heidelberg, said that sometimes that message gets lost, though. She said she’s had to deal with the aftermath of those not getting insurance too many times.

“You can think of so many things that could happen to everybody,” she said.

Some examples she cites: Children spilling something on the carpet, pets scratching up a door, a leaky washing machine damaging a wood floor, a kitchen fire that quickly gets out of control.

“A kitchen in Germany is so expensive,” she said. “And the work is so expensive. It could easily cost 10,000 to 15,000 euros.”

Bondifee said she couldn’t recommend a specific company for people to seek coverage from, “but there are plenty of them.” Many of the same companies that Americans get car insurance from also offer renter’s insurance or liability insurance, she said. Sometimes they offer package deals. USAA’s coverage also includes vehicle break-ins, according to the company Web site.

Bondifee said it’s important to read the fine print to see exactly what the policies cover and how much compensation they’ll provide. Some offer much greater protection by paying just a few more dollars a month than the basic minimum.

Dudley said he was doubtful about paying out $10 to $15 a month for his policy.

“Am I glad I did?” he asks. “Yes.”

author picture
Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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