Appeals court upholds rule in ambulance billing spat

Firefighters group withholding funds

November 28, 2001|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

The Reese fire company lost an appeal yesterday to stop the Carroll County Firemen's Association from withholding county funds because of a dispute over ambulance billing.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld a Carroll County Circuit Court decision denying Reese's injunction against the association, which oversees the county's 14 volunteer fire companies.

In its decision, the court said the association "acted within the scope of its authority." Despite Reese's claims, the association's bylaws allow for punitive action against an individual fire company, the court wrote in a seven-page decision issued yesterday.

The dispute began nearly three years ago when Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Company decided against a county association policy to bill for ambulance calls. The county's 12 other fire companies with ambulance service agreed to bill. Harney does not have an ambulance.

Joe Spangler, Reese company president, said yesterday that he didn't think the company would pursue further legal action.

"I think if we've lost the decision, we'll end up billing," Spangler said. "It's been decided by the court. I think the company will decide to start billing the $200. We can't allow the amount of money that's been invested to be lost."

Carroll's other fire companies have been billing customers a minimum of $200 per ambulance call - an amount set by the association. Reese has been charging $5. The county association initiated billing to cover rising emergency medical costs. Most insurance companies pay the fee.

The association began withholding Reese's quarterly allotment of $12,500 - money doled out by the county for fire companies with ambulance service - in July 2000. Two months later, Reese filed its injunction.

Firemen's association officials were pleased with the decision from the state's second-highest court.

"I think it's great, and now we can move on and get some other things done," said Malcolm Helwig, association president. "I would hope [Reese] wouldn't want to pursue it anymore because it's a waste of money."

John Korman, immediate past president of the association when the appeal was filed, said the case should never have gone to court.

"The vote was taken and the companies voted for ambulance billing, except Reese, and majority rules," Korman said. "Our bylaws say we can make any law to run the association. I hope it's over."

Reese's attorney, Roger Powell, said he needed time to review the decision and discuss it with Reese officials before making a comment. The fire company is expected to discuss the issue at a meeting Tuesday night. Once Reese begins billing the minimum $200, the fire company will receive any withheld funds, Spangler said.

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