BILLINGS - A lawsuit filed by Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg and his wife Jan against the city of Billings and the Billings Fire Department is now becoming political ammunition in Rehberg's bid for re-election.
The lawsuit filed last Friday contends property and equipment was damaged at Rehberg Ranch Estates because the fire department breached its duty during a wildfire. The July 2008 fire burned more than 1,100 acres in the subdivision just north of the Billings Rimrocks.
Monday Democratic Congressional nominee Dennis McDonald said Rehberg's lawsuit will have a chilling effect on fire departments and volunteer firefighters.
"As a volunteer firefighter in Melville, I don't want to have to worry about being sued, when I'm asked to help fight a fire," said McDonald. "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 said in a campaign press release.
McDonald says Rehberg's lawsuit is reminiscent of former Senator Conrad Burns' outburst when he called firefighters lazy during the 2006 summer wildfire season. Burns later apologized for his remarks.
McDonald is now calling on Rehberg to dismiss his lawsuit and apologize to the firefighters. "Congressman Rehberg, who has a net worth of $63 million, is now after the citizens of Billings for another million dollars," said McDonald. McDonald says he believes the firefighters who worked the Rehberg Ranch Fire two years ago deserve a "thank you," not a Rehberg lawsuit.
Rehberg Ranch LLC contends property and equipment was damaged at the Rehberg Ranch Estates because the fire department breached its duty during the wildfire. In court documents, the company claims that the fire scorched trees and ground cover causing irreperable damage on a large section of land intended for development. The company claims the city of Billings is liable for monetary damages because of the fire department's negligence.
City officials in Billings have yet to comment publicly on the lawsuit.