A federal judge yesterday rejected complaints that Alexandria officials tried to "wipe out" the city's 200-year old volunteer firefighting force, whose members had sued the city seeking $100,000 in damages.
U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. held after a daylong trial in Alexandria that the city did not violated the rights of its 225 volunteer firefighters by applying new restrictions and qualification standards to them. Alexandria officials, the judge said "are going to be responsible for those persons. They should be in a position of control."
Volunteer firefighters filed suit against the city this summer claiming that city officials violated their Constitutional rights with rules requiring them to stop smoking, pass a physical fitness test, a written exam and a polygraph test. The city, the volunteers said, did not impose the new regulations on the 180 paid firefighters it hired prior to 1977.
The volunteers charged the new rules put them out of business. "Under the administrative regulations the Alexandria Volunteer Fire Department doesn't exist," Benjamin Endicott, chief of the volunteer force told Bryant yesterday.
"I don't believe there is a constitutional right to be a fireman," said attorney Barry Poretz representing the city.
Alexandria officials named as defendants in the suit -- City Manager Douglas Harmon, Alexandria Fire Department Chief Charles H. Rule and City Personnel Director Robert Burnett--testified that the regulations were developed to insure the safety of firefighters and citizens at the scene of a fire. Harmon said the city must be certain that all firefighters are qualified since it is liable for their actions.
Paid professionals hired prior to 1977 were not included in the rules, Harmon said, because "These are people we see every day. We know them and their qualifications."
Janis McDonald, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing the volunteer firefighters, said she will appeal the case. "Most volunteers wouldn't be able to meet (the city standards). Those who could meet them could be hired as paid professionals," she said after the ruling.