Montana Congressman Sues Billings Fire

A Republican Congressman from Montana has filed suit against the City of Billings alleging negligence in fighting a wildland fire on his property in 2008.

The fire occurred in Rehberg Ranch Estates, a 1,000 acre subdivision owned by Congressman Rehberg and his wife. It allegedly burned trees, ground cover, and equipment on the land, which the lawsuit described as “irreparable”.  The suit was filed last Friday, July 2, 2010, in Yellowstone County District Court shortly after the Congressman won the Republican primary election.

Rehberg’s Democratic contender, Dennis McDonald, who happens to be a volunteer firefighter, has seized on the issue claiming that the Congressman has a net worth of $63 million, and instead of thanking the firefighters for risking their lives to save his properly he is demanding that the citizens of Billings give him another million dollars.  In a press release McDonald said: "The Billings Fire Department and the heroes who work there should not have to worry about the Rehbergs suing them while they are putting everything they have into doing what's right."

McDonald has publically called on Rehberg to drop the suit and apologize.

Oddly enough, Rehberg is not the only Montana Republican politician to offend firefighters  in recent memory. Former Senator Conrad Burns made headlines in 2006 when he accused members of a Virginia wildland “hot shot” crew who had come in to assist local firefighters - of doing a "poor job" and not allowing ranchers to fight fires as they saw fit. The outburst occurred as the firefighters sat in the airport awaiting their flight home. The remarks led to what some have called an altercation, and others called a “lively discussion”. Burns lost his reelection bid later that year.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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