Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer asked the County Council yesterday to act swiftly on emergency legislation to make Montgomery's career firefighters county employes, a move that could save millions of dollars in overtime wage costs.

Council President Rose Crenca introduced legislation on behalf of Kramer in light of a federal court ruling last month.

U.S. District Judge Herbert Murray ruled July 30 that the fire companies are private entities.

The county's 714 career firefighters are employed by 18 independent fire companies and include more than 1,000 volunteers.

Citing the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, Murray said the paid firefighters, as employes of private entities, must receive overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week.

However, if the firefighters were classified as county workers, they would be considered public employes under federal labor law. They then would receive overtime pay after working 53 hours a week.

Most firefighters work an average of 48 hours a week.

County officials have said that overtime pay could cost as much as $6.1 million next year without the legislation.

Kramer yesterday asked the fire companies to shift work schedules to minimize overtime and asked the council to approve special overtime funding -- instead of sending firefighters home after 40 hours and cutting back on services -- until it has an opportunity to vote on the bill.

William E. Hanna Jr., the only council member to speak out against the bill, said passage of the legislation would sound the death knell for the volunteer system.

Hanna maintained that making career firefighters county employes and making other changes in the fire system will cost taxpayers $10 million to $20 million.