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Maryland Volunteers Worried Over Ambulance Fee Retaliation

Volunteer firefighters are worried about retaliation as they gear up for a second fight over a proposed ambulance fee.

After the Montgomery County Council passed an ambulance fee in 2008, the volunteer firefighters were active in getting it on the November 2010 ballot. Now, some recall retaliation from County Executive Ike Leggett after they successfully overturned the bill in 2010.

The first time around were the budget cuts, the taking away of [the 19 volunteer departments 19] administrative officers, said Grant Davies, treasurer of the Bethesda Fire Department.

The Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, Cabin John Park Volunteer Fire Department, Hyattstown Volunteer Fire Department and Bethesda Fire Department sued the county in U.S. District Court last year over the administrator layoffs. The case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The firing was intended to punish the [volunteer departments], for, having advocated against an electoral referendum question on ambulance fee legislation previously sponsored by the county executive and enacted by the council, the complaint reads. The retaliation had been threatened by the county executive in the weeks leading up to the election.

Leggett also slashed overtime spending at the Kensington and Wheaton departments, said Kensington Volunteer Fire Chief James Stanton. Without the overtime that was lost, the career firefighters staff the station only from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the volunteers have to fill in the rest. But the volunteers try to work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. so they can keep their full-time jobs.

Stanton said he cant prove that the cuts were retaliatory, but I would likely feel that thats whats happening.

And there are also the general budget cuts the volunteer firefighters have felt in the last two years, said Tom Ryan, a longtime volunteer at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. He threatened at theof the last fight for ambulance fees that he would have to decrease public safety service ... closing down firehouses.

Leggetts office denies that any cutbacks were made as an act of retaliation.

Whatever moves that we made in that direction have been moves to deliver services more efficiently, said Leggett spokesman Patrick Lacefield. We still have a lot of funding for volunteer activities in the county budget.

The volunteers say they are not deterred from fighting the ambulance fee a second time.

If anything, Id probably push harder, Ryan said. Id probably make sure that the council members that vote for it arent re-elected.

The new bill is similar to the one passed four years ago, said Councilman Phil Andrews, D-Gaithersburg/Rockville. It authorizes the county to seek reimbursement from residents insurance companies for the costs of operating ambulances.



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