SNOWMASS VILLAGE - I had made up my mind not to tell this story. The judge, who knew I was a newspaper man, encouraged me to write it up after she had heard enough to dismiss the case against us. The Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District proved only that they were bullies; relying on nothing but fear and intimidation to settle the case. It was disgusting.
But, I'd decided the stress, anger and frustration they'd put us through was too much already. They prevailed in that regard, anyway. It was time to move on. And so we did, until recently when what happened to our necks in the aggressive grip of our domineering local fire department became pertinent to the community.
There is internal strife within the department. Employees feel oppressed. Turnover is far beyond acceptable for a unit upon which public safety is dependent. Advanced training cannot take place when a continual flow of new members are being trained on the basics. Morale is swirling the drain.
Pay and the lack of affordable housing are not the primary concerns, as management would like us to believe. Lack of respect for the frontline workers, one-way communication and general heavy-handedness by those in charge are what I have been told are the problems. My recent experience with the district leads me to believe this is most likely true.
What turned out to be a simply resolved billing issue was maneuvered into a nightmare of harrying, harassment, and non-cooperation that stretched out for more than a year. At stake was all of $1,300. Sure, we should have just paid it and been done with it. And, that was their sole strategy in "working things out."
More than two years after I took an ambulance ride to the hospital, we received our first notice from the Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District that our account hadn't been paid. Collection proceedings would begin if we did not immediately pay. We had assumed that our insurance paid the bill, as they had with all the other charges related to the incident.
We inquired with our insurance company about the unpaid balance. It told us the bill was denied because it was submitted by Snowmass Wildcat two years after the services had been rendered and the case had been closed. Snowmass Wildcat maintained this was not true and that the bill had been submitted in a timely manner.
Our insurance company told us that if Snowmass Wildcat could provide proof that the bill had been submitted within the prescribed time limit, it would pay the amount due. Perfect. It was an easy issue to resolve.
Unfortunately, courtesy, cooperation or even simple common sense did not carry the day. When we asked Snowmass Wildcat to provide us with the necessary documentation, it informed us that the case had been turned over to collections and that it was no longer the district's concern. Two more pleas over the course of what turned into a months-long battle were met with similar arrogant and dispassionate responses. They claimed to possess information that could get them paid, but refused to give it to us. Why?
A good reason was never discovered. They got lawyers involved. They harassed us almost nightly through a collection agency. They verbally disparaged us and called us deadbeats. They basically did everything to intimidate us into paying what they thought was due to them ... except help us. This was our neighborhood fire department? This was a cornerstone of our community? These were supposed to be the people we needed to trust in time of need?
After months of legal fighting, we came to the point when each side has to turn over all evidence they intended to present at the trial. Near the top of their 6-inch thick stack of paperwork, we found the piece of paper we had requested over and over again to no avail. We gave a copy to our insurance company and the bill was paid within days. Case dismissed by an incredulous judge.
This is my experience, and I had believed, because it is so unbelievably ridiculous, that it was an isolated incident that somehow got blown out of reason. Now, I don't think so. Something is malfunctioning in the management of Snowmass Wildcat Fire Protection District. Call it a poisonous attitude or a power play at the top. I know they went out of their way to make my life miserable when mutual respect and cooperation could have easily solved the problem. I'm a customer who was abused despite being right. My sympathies are with the Snowmass Wildcat employees.
Roger Marolt is still scratching his head and licking his wounds over this one at firstname.lastname@example.org.