Oak Bluffs fire chief rebuts claims in long running dispute

A long and costly dispute flared again in the Oak Bluffs fire department. — File photo by Mae Deary

In a letter to the town selectmen dated August 5, Oak Bluffs Fire Chief Peter Forend rebutted point by point accusations made by Peter Martell, who claimed in an earlier letter that he has not been reinstated to his position in the fire department, as ordered by a court.

In July, Mr. Martell charged that the department had harassed him, and he threatened to file another lawsuit. Selectmen have referred the long and already costly dispute to the town’s labor counsel.

In June, 2010, a Dukes County Superior Court Judge ruled that Chief Forend and the town were wrong to dismiss Mr. Martell, after charging him with insubordination at two fires in 2008. The court ordered the cash-strapped town to pay legal bills for Mr. Martell, totaling $35,736.

Mr. Martell said the department will not honor his rank, has not restored his radio call sign, that he is not allowed to attend officers’ meetings, and not allowed to be involved in any firefighting operations.

“This administration has put far too many hours into defending false statements and allegations from Peter Martell,” Chief Forend wrote in an August 5 letter to selectmen. “It is clear that if anyone is being harassed in this situation, it is the board of fire engineers and this department.”

In his letter to selectmen, Chief Forend said Mr. Martell was formally reinstated, following a September 2010 meeting with the town administrator and the chairman of the selectmen. At the time, he was given a job description of his duties as fire investigator and operating guidelines for the department.

Mr. Forend said Mr. Martell’s duties as a fire investigator do not include firefighting.

“Mr. Martell was voted out of a line captain’s position on December 16, 1980, and he has not been an active member of any truck company since March 2, 1981,” Chief Forend wrote.

He also said Mr. Martell’s radio call sign was phased out, as part of an Island-wide initiative that affected all emergency management directors, and that he has not been barred from any of the three officers’ meetings since his return to the department.

Mr. Forend noted that Mr. Martell received biannual stipends, according to his rank as a captain in fire investigation for 2010 and 2011.

“It is unclear to me how someone could accept payment for a position they claim they were never reinstated to,” Chief Forend wrote.