Sgt. Richard Fersch, who supervised thousands of sheriff sales as head of the real estate division for the Allegheny County sheriff's office, died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack on a bus on his way to work.
Sgt. Fersch, 64, of Oakland, had been a deputy sheriff for more than four decades and was well-regarded for his expertise in real estate and foreclosures.
"He was the go-to guy for us because of his knowledge," said Sheriff William Mullen. "He was the cornerstone of our real estate division."
Sgt. Fersch had a heart attack at about 5:40 a.m. Firefighters tried unsuccessfully to revive him with a defibrillator. The bus was near UPMC Mercy and he was rushed there, but doctors couldn't save him. An autopsy is scheduled for today.
Sgt. Fersch grew up in Soho and joined the sheriff's office in 1972. In the early years he worked extradition cases, traveling across the country to bring prisoners back home.
He'd been in the real estate and civil division since 1992 and liked the job so much that he came in early, stayed late and worked through lunch.
"For as long as I can remember he did that," said his son, Richard of Mt. Lebanon. "He just really enjoyed working."
As supervisor of the real estate division, his official shift was 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. But he often worked longer and didn't put in for overtime.
"He was so dedicated," said Sheriff Mullen. "He would be here at 6 a.m. every day even though he didn't have to start until 7."
Sgt. Fersch was known to be compassionate in guiding people through the foreclosure process. In 2008, at the height of the housing crisis nationwide, he was part of an effort to create a conciliation program in Common Pleas Court to help financially strapped homeowners keep their homes.
"He was instrumental in getting that done," said the sheriff. "It worked out very well."
Even before that program, the sheriff said, Sgt. Fersch's knowledge of real estate was important in anticipating the impact of the housing bust on sheriff's operations.
Sgt. Fersch looked out for homeowners in many ways. In one case, an elderly man was about to lose a piece of valuable property in a private sale until Sgt. Fersch stepped in and stopped the process.
"He came in and told me they were going to steal this guy's property," Sheriff Mullen recalled.
In another case, Sgt. Fersch took it upon himself to track down a doctor in San Francisco whose mother was about to lose her home for failure to pay taxes.
He also helped lawyers, who came into the office to file writs but often made mistakes. Instead of charging another $75 to prepare a new one, he showed them how to do it.
"He liked to teach young lawyers, and he taught the other deputies," said Sheriff Mullen. "He was very kind."
In his spare time, Sgt. Fersch was a family man who enjoyed spending time with children and grandchildren and going on family vacations in New Jersey. He also liked refereeing grade-school and junior varsity basketball and never missed Fort Ligonier Days every October. He had been there this past weekend.
Besides his son, Sgt. Fersch is survived by his wife, Valerie, and three other children: Dawn of Mount Airy, Md.; Brenda of Richland; and Jill of Chippewa.
Funeral arrangements have not been finalized.
Torsten Ove: email@example.com or 412-263-1510. First Published October 15, 2013 8:00 PM