Union firefighters seek legal protections Assembly bill would add disciplinary procedures

March 25, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Maryland fire union officials, who say the state's 7,000 paid firefighters need protection from arbitrary discipline, pressed their case before a state Senate committee yesterday, seeking a law similar to the 24-year-old Law Enforcement Bill of Rights.

Firefighters sometimes are punished after unproven allegations and without procedural safeguards, Kevin B. O'Connor, president of the Maryland State and D.C. Professional Fire Fighters Association, told members of the Senate Finance Committee yesterday.

"We deserve a level playing field," the union leader said.

But David S. Bliden, director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said the bill "would lawyerize" the disciplinary process and "make it much harder to get the bad apples" off public payrolls.

The bill -- a version of which was considered by a House of Delegates committee last week -- would delay any disciplinary action based on alleged criminal misdemeanor conduct until the criminal case is decided.

It also would establish procedural steps that a fire department would have to follow, and rights a firefighter would have during an investigation. It would allow an employee to have records of an infraction expunged after three years.

Last week's House committee hearing included an appearance by Baltimore County firefighter Walter L. Brewer III, who was suspended without pay last year after allegations that he placed a noose in the gear of a colleague.

A county police investigation produced no charges and Brewer denies leaving the noose. The allegations were dropped as part of a deal in which Brewer was punished for a racially offensive joke he told the colleague seven years ago.

O'Connor, also president of the Baltimore County Firefighters Union, said that Brewer was never told the evidence against him and that the noose incident was never officially resolved.

Pub Date: 3/25/98

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