BY MATTHEW LYSIAK
DAILY NEWS WRITER
Wednesday, January 30th 2008, 4:00 AM
They survived World War II and Korea, but now a group of veterans are making a stand against another formidable foe - the Health Department.
Battle lines have been drawn between a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Bay Ridge, and Health Department agents who the soldiers say are trigger happy when it comes to citations.
"I faced some frightening fascists in my time, but I've never seen anything like this," said Angel Rios, a 79-year-old Korean War vet and post commander. "We served our country with honor - and now this city is spitting in our faces."
The call to arms came after the agency issued more than $4,000 in tickets and forced the vets to expel their beloved feline mascot, Baby, in a series of violations issued over the last 11 months that ranged from not displaying a "smoking permitted" sign to not having a Food Protection Certificate.
The post paid the fines, and members even attended a series of classes to gain certification on proper food handling, but they now say they want the Health Department off their backs and out of their club - permanently.
"They are coming into our home and telling us that ice is a food and that our little kitten is a hazard," said Rios. "Do they go into kitchens and ask people if they know how to use the automatic ice makers on their refrigerators?"
The veterans argued that they did not need the certificate because the 300-member post doesn't have a kitchen and only operates the ice machine for its bar, but the city remained adamant that ice is a food.
"While the establishment may not serve food to the public from a kitchen, ice does constitute food under the health code, because it is something that someone consumes," said Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Sara Markt. "Ice machines have been implicated in foodborne-illness outbreaks elsewhere in the country."
The agency also cited other concerns involved in serving drinks, such as sanitizing glasses, but added that some of the smoking violations were "in the process of being withdrawn."
The news came as little consolation to the vets.
"We are a fraternal organization of dues-paying members and shouldn't be subject to any of these inspections," said Rios. "We earned the right to be left alone and we have the battle scars to prove it."
Rios said he wants to cooperate with the city, but is just looking for a little recognition.
"Little do they know that there wouldn't be a Department of Health without these brave men who fought for this country," he said.
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