Murrysville fire departments to begin billing insurance companies
By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Fighting fires can be expensive. But three local volunteer fire departments want to try to recoup some of the costs.
Murrysville's three fire departments – Murrysville, Sardis and White Valley – plan to begin using an Allentown-based company to bill insurance companies for equipment costs incurred during calls.
“We've talked about this for several years,” White Valley Chief John Bohinc said. “We've just never gotten this off of the ground.”
The three fire departments plan to contract PA Fire Recovery as a third-party billing company. After fires and accidents, department officials will itemize the equipment used during the incidents and have the company bill insurance companies based on a pre-set list of equipment costs.
The departments can't charge an insurance company for its labor – the groups are strictly volunteer – but they can recoup what Chief Administrator Jim Morrison called “reasonable costs” for the use of equipment. For instance, an insurance company could be billed $1,500 for a medical extraction in a car accident. If a department spends three hours fighting a structure fire, a claim could be issued for $350 per hour for the engine; $50 for each fire fighter's air pack; $25 per 50-feet of hose used; and $100 per hour for any road closures associated with the incident.
Bohinc said the average claim through PA Fire Recovery nets about $900 – which he said the company estimates is about 50 percent of what is requested. The company typically retains 15 percent of the recovered costs in lieu of a regular fee, and the fire department receives the rest of the payment.
That's money the fire departments are entitled to, said Shawn Meder, owner of PA Fire Recovery.
“The majority of the time, the departments would not see a dime of that money,” Meder said. “It's just the matter of the fire departments going after it.”
Bills never go to a homeowner, Meder said. If an insurance company refuses to pay, the bill is written off, he said.
Before voting in favor of the plan, Murrysville Councilman Ron Summerhill needed to be reassured that residents wouldn't be billed for fire department services. That wasn't his only worry.
“The fire departments have the right and the opportunity, I understand that,” Summerhill said. “But the more these payouts are, the higher the premiums are going to go.”
Bohinc said the departments understand that there might be an impact on local insurance premiums, but he said the departments aren't going to bill for every call.
“It's not our intent to bill for every fender-bender,” Bohinc said. “But when we're out there on Route 22 for three or four hours because a tractor trailer lost its load, that's a different story.”
More than 500 departments in Pennsylvania have signed on with PA Fire Recovery, Meder said. That includes 15 departments in Allegheny County and six more in Westmoreland – although Meder would not identify any of his clients. The seven municipal volunteer fire departments in nearby Penn Hills have considered the move several times, said Shawn Snyder, chief of Penn Hills Volunteer Fire Department No. 221. However, those chiefs worry there could be repercussions.
“There's a lot of concern it could affect donations,” Snyder said. “We decided not to do it individually.”
Bohinc said the three Murrysville departments will file claims separately, but will work together to negotiate an agreement with PA Fire Recovery.
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or email@example.com.
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