Montgomery County's nearly 700 firefighters and rescue workers will not be celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday tomorrow.

Officials of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Commission, which runs the county's 18 fire and rescue stations, say they would prefer celebrating Maryland Day on March 25 and that they have not had time to properly plan for the holiday.

"It's not a racist kind of thing," said Marcine D. Goodloe, executive secretary of the commission, which is not a part of the county government. "We certainly respect Dr. King and what he stood for, but we think that Marylanders should be able to celebrate their day."

County employes will observe King's birthday tomorrow, although the birthday falls on Saturday.

One disgruntled firefighter, upset because he will be working on Friday, said that he would prefer to take the same holiday as county employes, rather than Maryland Day.

"For most of us, Maryland Day means nothing," said the employe, who asked that he not be identified. "But Martin Luther King's birthday has meaning, especially for our minority employes."

Robert Jones, secretary-treasurer of the Montgomery County Firefighters Union Local 1664, said the union, which represents about 250 of the total 675 fire and rescue workers, decided earlier this week to file a grievance over the holiday issue.

"We realize that a lot of our members couldn't care less about Martin Luther King, but in deference to our black firefighters, we'd like to see the holiday celebrated," Jones said.

Goodloe said the seven-member commission voted last Oct. 14 to substitute Maryland Day for King's birthday, also an official state holiday Friday. Once the commission learned in November that county government would observe King's birthday, there was not enough time, she said, to notify the county administrator of any schedule changes for firefighters, as required by county statute.