Either a former Baltimore Fire Department employee or the union that once collected his dues has a fuzzy memory.
Frederick H. Hensen, a former mechanic at the department's Key Highway garage, charged in a lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that the union refused to represent him in a dispute with management that forced him into disability retirement last September.
But Trinna L. Parris, secretary of Local 44, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, said the union offered to represent him because it was obligated to help even those employees in the collective bargaining group who refuse membership and no longer pay dues.
Mr. Hensen, 52, said the union turned him down when he sought a grievance hearing to obtain a light-duty assignment that would allow him to continue working on two bad knees.
During his 10-year Fire Department career as a civilian employee, he said, he was entangled in a running dispute with the union over its policies. He resigned from the local in 1983.
His physical problems began in March 1985, he said, when he slipped on a patch of grease while carrying a brake assembly in the garage and damaged his right knee. Eight months later, he said, he slipped on an icy road while responding to a call for repair, and injured the left knee.
Since then, he said, he has undergone four knee operations and suffers from severe pain and locked joints.
Mr. Hensen said that the problem has worsened over the years and that when he asked for light-duty work, he was told to continue his regular chores. He said he then was placed on medical leave in February 1991 and was told last September either to retire on disability or face termination.
Mr. Hensen, who is not eligible for full retirement benefits until age 62, receives a small monthly check under disability retirement.
He also named the Fire Department in the suit, alleging that it discriminated against a handicapped person by failing to find him an appropriate assignment.
Mr. Hensen insisted that he made a number of unsuccessful attempts to get the union to represent him.
"They made statements to the effect that they were not going to represent anybody who was not paying union dues," he said.
Ms. Parris rejected that.
"At no particular time did he come to this union for representation," she said. "He's a disgruntled former member who tried to represent himself but was dissatisfied with the outcome."
William H. Kirkpatrick II, Mr. Hensen's lawyer, said he would produce documents during the federal court litigation to back up his client's claim.