Interview: Steve Summerton First Congregational Church

Storm and Water Damage In The Church
(From Claim DENIAL To Success)

Introduction (who I am):  My name is Steve Summerton. I’m the Director of Church Administration and Finance for the Fist Congregational Church of Greenwich.

June 1st of 2015, so a little over two years ago, we had a large water leak in one of our buildings. I would estimate a couple thousand gallons of water came in through the ceiling.

The building is three stories tall, there are three floors, and it made all the way down to the bottom floor. There was one room in the bottom floor that didn’t receive water, everything else had water damage.

I did my due diligence, calling our insurance company to get an adjuster out and a cleaning company so the cleaning can begin. They were talking with a few people; some people recommended looking into getting our own insurance adjuster, so we would have them.

Someone said, “You might want to look and give John a call.” So I called John and at the time, he was working, he was very busy. I think there was a country club that had a lot of trees that had fallen down. It was a tornado. There was a tornado that went through a country club or something and all these trees fell down at weddings. I guess the back took on water. He’s doing that and he came down here to talk to me.

Basically, he just told us how insurance companies work, how they pretend to be your friend but it’s the complete opposite different.

This is an independent church so it has its own governance board, so everything has to be church-approved.

At the time, the chair of the board of trustees and a couple other church members in the governance board met with John and he explained the services and gave us a list of references.

So I called the owner of this realty management company and they manage a condo association pretty close to the church that sustained fire damage and I asked him I said, “I’m just doing a reference check on John Giordano and Associates.” He told me, “I’ve been in the business for many years, a couple of decades.”

He said when there are losses, he normally handles them. He gives them to adjusters. When the fire happened, he was approached by probably half dozen adjusters.

So he talked to some of his friends in the insurance company and when he mentioned Giordano, he said, “I don’t like that guy.” And he goes, “Because every time I deal with him, he cost a lot of money.” So he hired him and he said it was the best decision he ever made.

So that had a lot of weight, coming from someone in the realty business. He said ever since then he uses him for insurance claims. One thing he told me is that the association thought they were going to have an assessment after everything and they did not have any assessment. Giordano’s able to get them everything that they were entitled to in their policy.

“I don’t like that guy.” And he goes, “Because every time I deal with him, he cost a lot of money.” So he hired him and he said it was the best decision he ever made. An insurance company exec talking about John Giordano

One thing that we have learned here because we have with our insurance company is once it became a large loss, there was some kickback from the insurance company, where we didn’t know how the water penetrated our roof.

Our roof had pretty much just turned 15 years old a couple months after it happened. So it was still under the warranty and everything.

The insurance company was pointing to the roof and we felt that it had something to do with the roof drain because the drains go through the building.

The way to get to the roof drain without maybe the pipes had rotted away or something because they’re under the ceiling, the building was built in the early ‘50s so when they built it, wall ceilings all plaster.

This coating was applied about 1 ½-2 inches thick which contains asbestos. At the time, it was used as an insulator, fire barrier. So now that it’s been wet, it’s been compromised, we had to have that abated. But in order to see where the pipes are, you had to go through the ceiling. So we had to first wait until the damaged areas were abated before we could look at the pipes.

The areas were damaged, the pipes were shown and the drain pipes were perfectly fine. So the insurance company put the brakes on everything. They issued a right of refusal, meaning that they could deny our claim and this large loss, we would only be covered something like $10,000.

Giordano, fought for us when told for and through professionals coming in to determine what caused the leak.

What caused the leak is the drain pipe backed up which caused the tail pipe of the drain to become dislodged. And when it became dislodged, it raised and the water’s backing up the pipe.

Instead of the water going back on to the roof, it went in between the roof membrane. The roof membrane expanded up and then its rubber just pushed all the water down the building.

So the fact that it was not the roof that failed, it was the drain pipe, the insurance company did not deny our claim.

They had to accept our claim as a loss and we were able to start with our rebuilding process.

With our rebuilding process, the insurance company, they have their own professionals. They have their own contractor.

  • We hired our own contractor. We had our own architect.
  • Our contractor came up with a price, what it would cost;
  • the insurance company’s contractor came up with a price, what it would cost.

They were states apart.

It isn’t that anyone was making numbers higher; it was this is just the way they seem to be operating.

So now the negotiations began between our adjuster and the insurance company’s adjuster of how do you come up with your pricing?

In the end, we agreed to something that the church feels like was fair.

One thing that the roof was completely gone the insulation underneath the membrane was completely soaked so the roof had to be replaced. They gave us what it would cost to replace. T

he church decided to do a couple enhancements so that if something like this does happen in the future, we have some safety issues up there. And then the building was built in the early ‘50s and there hasn’t been much renovation done to that building at all.

But now since all these are damaged, we don’t have a certificate of occupancy, now, we’re into our code compliance portion of our policy.

Being a church in Greenwich, the town really goes through everything with a fine tooth comb. The architect that we’ve had has been great. We’ve had to go in for the planning and zoning and the architectural review board of the town.

If you talk to him, he could tell you everything in probably 20-25 minute narrative that took 8-9 months to accomplish.

We got the approvals to go ahead and rebuild

So now, Giordano’s still with us. It’s been over two years. They’ve been here every step of the way.

There have been times when the response rate from our insurance company averages about six weeks before we hear something back. That doesn’t mean any answer. That means you hear back from them.

They have always been there whenever we’ve needed them, they’re there.

Now, they are working to get what we’re entitled to with our policy for co-compliance. Our fire alarm system, I guess it’s probably must be from the late ‘70s, ‘80s and it don’t have smoke detectors. Well, the code, you need smoke detectors and carbon monoxide.

Our panel cannot handle that. From the fire marshal that didn’t want a separate panel to have two panels going. They wanted one panel, and then they want a sub panel. That’s one small detail of many that we’ve had to deal with and it’s still being dealt with. This happened over two years ago.

One thing too, is that the state has a statute where you have a two-year time period to settle your claim or you need to get an extension from the insurance company.

So when time was winding down, we began talking about an extension and we did get an extension.

Giordano was very helpful in receiving that extension because of the long process it took with having to first have our claim accepted by the insurance company and then all the permitting we had to do with the town.

Now we’re in the process of rebuilding the code compliance issues. So we hope that the areas that were damaged hopefully in a few months, it will be all fixed and rebuilt. Of course, since it’s been since 1952, the church has decided to make a few enhancements, mostly related to technology and energy-efficient resources.

So hopefully in a few months we’ll get back and there would probably be about two-and-a-half years since the loss was incurred.

Q -  Imagine no John?

I’m sure that if we had dealt directly with the insurance company, I don’t know if they would have gone taking the same route that they did, issuing our award letter or if they would have tried to advise us on what our policy was, basically saying, “Well, this is how much it cost. Here’s a check.”

But if we didn’t have an adjuster and we did receive our award letter, that’s where would have looked for legal counsel.

Interviewer:  A Giordano Associate told me about the two-year window and someone that he knew got to him a little late after that two years and there is nothing they could do.

In a circumstance like this, that’s over two years.
In the other circumstance, they gave them a check and said you’re done. Take it or leave it and you’re done.

Here, fortunately, you have those guys to work with you but where I think about it, I would have thought, well, you had some water in your building. And then I hear all the damage and then I hear all the other moving parts.

Steve Summerton: There’s a kitchen on the middle floor. When the cleaning company was here drying everything out before the company came in to abate the building, the asbestos materials that had been compromised because of the water, they were packing things up and they had machines drying everything out.

Again, we thought it was coming from the drain pipes and it was raining out. Not like today, it was down pouring.

The manager, the case manager came in here and his eyes were wide open. He said, “It’s literally raining in the kitchen.” I walked up with him and we were in the hallway.

If you walk into the room, you would have been in the downpour that was going on outside, inside of a room. That’s how much water was coming in. We went above and of course in that room down pouring through the ceiling, through the light fixtures unto the floor and water finding any way that it could travel.

Giordano Associates have done a lot of work. Again, it wasn’t like he just sat down, met with them, came up with an agreement and he’s gone. I think we signed with them in July, early July. So they’ve been here for two years. I don’t know if this is one of the longest ones they stayed on. I’m sure it’s up there. A Giordano Associate told me, going on, that this claim, he’s dealt with things that he hasn’t dealt with before.

Some people shy away from that but I could see when he tells me that, that that is just something that ignites his fire.

That this is something I haven’t dealt with before and he really goes after it. It’s not that we’re getting more than we should, which we were getting what’s in our policy, what we’re entitled to.

When we first met with John, it took everyone a step back to say:
Well, we have insurance
Why do we need you?
Why do we need to pay your fee?

Because we’re going to get what we get from our insurance company but when he went there and explained how the insurance companies work, because they’re business.

They’re a for profit business, so what’s going to happen?

Why a public adjuster why John Giordano?

Well, it wasn’t my decision. It was the church’s decision and the governance leaders at the time talked with him, listened to what he had to say.

Everyone was acting in the best interest of the church. The consensus was in the best interest of the church, we’ll hire him as our adjuster to work on our behalf. From talking with other clients that he worked for, other churches who had losses, the same insurance company we do, they all recommended to hiring adjuster that you have confidence in.

Check the backgrounds. Do your due diligence. Hire a contractor. Hire an architect. I believe one of the people I talked to said,

“Let them fight the fight because they know what to say and they know when to say it.”

That’s pretty much what’s been happening.

Giordano sticks by your side, answers your phone calls and they call you and they follow up and they deal with our contractor. They work hard for us.Mr. Steve Summerton

Anything else you would like to share with me that I haven’t asked?

The world has changed. From 1950 to 2017, things really have changed. Exit signs, its fire alarm and banisters in the railing.

The heights and everything have changed because those are the areas that were affected by the water.

The building has floodlights that lit up pretty much the sidewalk and the parking lot. Because of the water damage in the roof, when the roof was replaced, the conduit lines had to be taken up and the town wouldn’t let us put the floodlights back in the building.

So they’re requiring us to put flood lights on the building and then pole lights in the parking lot to make up for the light from the floodlights. That’s all because of the water damage.

And the stairwells, the way that the railings are, they have to be raised.

from 1950 to 2017, things really have changed.

Interviewer: I can’t imagine being in your position and trying to handle all of that.

Steve Summerton: That’s why the professionals were out there. That’s why the church hired and architect contractor, that’s why they hired John and Anthony.

Steve Summerton: Their fee is based off of what we end up receiving from the insurance company. It’s a professional fee.

Interviewer: You don’t have to pay that upfront. That doesn’t happen until the end. So they have quite and investment in you.


In the kitchen there was a dropped ceiling, so it was raining through the dropped ceiling. The other rooms, they’re light fixtures like this and the water would collect in the light fixtures and pour over.

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This is the kitchen too. This is when they were doing work in it. There must be water here too but sometimes when you take pictures; it doesn’t really come out that well. That’s the music room. This is where the big leak started. You can see there are puddles here, over here, and the tarp that was put down. On this end right here is where the kitchen is, where the water was raining down.

Here are some more pictures of the tarp and you can see the pools of water that was just collecting in it. Again, more pools of water. This is water here that had leaked from above. More pools of water. This was when our roof was being done; finally, which happened last summer that the new roof came on and the crane was lifting all the supplies unto the roof. Okay. There’s a floodlight. There’s a floodlight there. There’s a floodlight over here.

There’s the stairwell with the rails because water leaked in here and these railings are not up to code so those are going to have to be done. There’s water here on the floor. This is on the middle floor of the building. You could see the watermarks in the stairwell there.

It’s the water falling in from the ceiling pictures. But if you turn the camera, because that’s the ceiling up here but you could see the water falling, you can see the ceiling is all wet. So we were cleaning up the water. This one, you can actually see the water falling from the ceiling unto the floor. Now, what happened here, this was the Monday after it rained. So if you looked at the windows, it’s nice and sunny outside because it was. The drain on the roof, the screen was clogged.

This was what it looked like when we came here Monday morning. The floor is all completely wet. This is before the screen and the drain was pulled. There are some puddles on the floor. This is the choir room on the top floor. This is the associate pastor’s office. The floor was all wet. This is the ceiling right here. That’s that asbestos material.

What was happening is that when the water tracked it, it was just falling off the ceiling, like cork falling off. More water. That was the hallway upstairs. The light fixture filled up with water, it’s only plastic. There’s so much water, the plastic part actually fell down.

You can see it’s nice out during the day. This was when the screen was cleared. It just poured in. Those cabinets there have a lot of music in it, sheet music and everything, scores. The cabinets were a complete loss but the music inside was perfectly fine.

We’re very fortunate. That’s another picture of the morning with the water on the floor. What had happened is I came in the Sunday night and more of our custodians were here, the associate pastor. They were mopping up the floor and the water was coming in through the light fixtures on the ceiling that’s conduit here, this box here. It was dripping down hot.

Interviewer: So the electricity was still –

Steve Summerton: Yeah. This was at night and so everyone decided we’re standing in water with hot water dripping on us from the electrical lines so we’re going to leave. So we left.

We turned off the little lights. This was before the screen was pulled. You can see there’s just some puddles on the floor that was coming into this recess lighting through any hole that was in the ceiling. This was the wall in the associate pastor’s office. I guess the water got in between the paint in the wall and it was bubbling. This was actually filled with water too.

Interviewer: That was the asbestos, right?

Steve Summerton: These dots right here, those are actually water droplets. That’s the asbestos. Here, a piece found in the center of the room like a big pizza fell. Every garbage can situated throughout the rooms trying to collect water.

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