Former Baltimore County paramedic Debra Reynolds' predicament makes no more sense to a county circuit judge than it does to her, but she's not yet sure if that's good or bad news.
The county Fire Department fired Mrs. Reynolds on grounds that a hand injury made it impossible for her to work. But the county Board of Appeals then denied her an accidental disability pension on grounds that she can work.
Circuit Judge Alfred L. Brennan Sr., hearing Mrs. Reynolds' appeal of the pension denial, has ordered the case returned to the Board of Appeals for further consideration.
He said he wants somebody to explain the contradiction. The Board of Appeals, he said, "just can't rule one way, let the Fire Department rule another way and still say we're Baltimore County, because that's not going to float with Judge Brennan," he said. "I feel they have to reconcile that."
The board is the highest administrative review body in county government and hears mostly zoning and retirement appeals.
The judge wants the Board of Appeals get the Fire Department to explain how it decided that Mrs. Reynolds, 32, was too disabled to work, since both the county retirement board and the Board of Appeals have decided that the medical evidence shows she is cabable of working.
Mrs. Reynolds was first injured in May, 1988, when she tried to restrain a loose stretcher holding a county police prisoner in the back of a county Fire Department ambulance. The stretcher hit her right hand, which resulted in two hand surgeries and a reinjury when she tried to resume work. After months of light duty, the Fire Department dismissed her in December 1991 as unable to work.
Three doctors testified that they could find no reason for the intense pain and weakness that she complains has left her hand nearly useless, while her own doctor has said she is permanently disabled.
Mrs. Reynolds and her attorney applauded the judge's sentiments, but were uncertain what effect they might have, and more importantly, how quickly any final decision in the case would come. "He did agree that there is something basically unfair here. He just didn't give us the relief we wanted," said Damon A. Trazzi, Mrs. Reynold's attorney.
Assistant County Attorney James A. Helfman said the board does not have any authority over the Fire Department's decisions to fire or hire anyone, so the potential result of a rehearing is unclear. He pointed out, however, that the judge "did not overrule the Board of Appeals."
The Joppatowne woman is living hand to mouth, she said, and is now trying to sell more of the familiy's posessions to raise October's mortgage payment on their home. Brian Reynolds, her husband, has said he is also disabled from two automobile accidents and cannot work to support their three young children, two of whom were born since the initial injury.
"Im not giving up," Mrs. Reynolds said yesterday. She said she's worried about the months of waiting that will be required, however, to schedule a new hearing before the Board of Appeals, and then perhaps for another court hearing.
But she said she was determined to get the accidental disability pension, which would give her two-thirds of her old $446 weekly salary. Since the disability pension is tax free, she would get the equivilent of her old take home pay.