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Insurance agent untangles mixup over Leechburg workers' comp premiums

| Friday, Dec. 20, 2013, 1:26 a.m.

Leechburg Borough will not be paying an additional premium for workers' compensation insurance in 2014.

At Tuesday's council meeting, the borough accepted an insurance package proposal from Jerich Insurance that cost $57,000.

However, insurance agent Connie Jerich told the borough the cost could be reduced once she contacted state officials to clear up what she said was an error or misunderstanding at the state level regarding workers' compensation insurance coverage.

That was done on Wednesday, Jerich said, and the result is that the borough's total insurance package will cost $52,400 for 2014.

She believes that happened because of an error by the state. The state Department of Labor and Industry includes the Bureau of Workers Compensation.

Jerich said the problem apparently resulted from confusion about the working relationship between the Markle Fire Company in neighboring Allegheny Township and Lower Kiski Valley Emergency Services, an independent, paid/volunteer community emergency services organization based in Leechburg.

“Because Lower Kiski is housed in Leechburg, they (state) assumed the coverage for Markle was the responsibility of Leechburg to pay for Markle,” Jerich said.

However, Sara Goulet, press secretary for the Department of Labor and Industry, disputes that the state made an error.

“I would tell you we do not believe there was an error on the part of the state, looking back to review the coverage,” Goulet said.

Jerich said she was able to clear up the matter by obtaining proof from Allegheny Township Emergency Management Coordinator Lee Schumaker that the township provides workers' compensation insurance for Markle and contacting the state.

The end result is that Leechburg's total cost for workers' compensation amounts to about $32,300, of which about $11,900 is the cost to cover just the borough's firefighters. The balance of the $52,400 cost, about $20,000, goes for all other insurances such as liability and property coverage.

“It ended up, basically, to be a big clerical error,” Jerich said.

The situation caused an adverse reaction in the emergency services/ firefighting community, particularly among the Markle Volunteer Fire Company's members, due to a story in Wednesday's Valley News Dispatch.

The story inaccurately described the Markle company as having been taken over and operated by Lower Kiski.

Schumaker and Pete Frejkowski, Lower Kiski's chief, said that's not the case.

They said the units operate as independent entities, but have a partnership that is deeper than the typical mutual aid agreements between communities. That was established in 2010 after Schumaker became Allegheny Township's director of emergency services.

Prior to that, Schumaker and Frejkowski said, different areas of Allegheny Township were covered by three different ambulance services.

“There was no accountability for any ambulance service, there was no overseeing of EMS,” Schumaker said. “We pretty much let them do whatever they felt was necessary. So, at that time, we made an agreement with Lower Kiski that they would be our ‘first out' ambulance service — our primary response unit — for all of Allegheny Township.”

But, the arrangement went further.

Two members of the Lower Kiski ambulance crew man Markle's fire substation during the day, when fewer Markle volunteers are available, Frejkowski said. The substation is at Phillips' Lane and White Cloud Road, in the center of Allegheny Township.

Certified firefighters, Lower Kiski personnel are subject to key fire department rules and join Markle's volunteers if there's a fire.

“We have been into it now for three years, and we have had zero percent of problems with it,” Schumaker said.

“The township has gained additional firefighters for the tough times it is for us to crew; Lower Kiski has gained additional territory; and now the township has accountability for EMS. It's a win-win for everybody.”

Schumaker said the adverse reaction occurred because, when the agreement was established, many people were concerned for the future of the Markle fire company. He said the news story dredged the issue up and he spent most of the day reassuring everyone.

Frejkowski agreed that there were suspicions initially.

“Sure, because this isn't a very common occurrence,” he said. “I give Lee a lot of credit, and I give the people from Markle a lot of credit for being receptive to this.“

Asked if the workers' compensation issue had ever occurred before, Frejkowski said, “No, because there's not been any kind of merger or anything of that nature. It's simply a partnership.

“There should be no reason why that arrangement would have any effect on Leechburg.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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