Chief Greene exits O.B. Fire Dept.

Department left chiefless, to the dismay of staff, volunteers, deputy chief says.

Oak Bluffs Interim Fire Chief Martin Greene departed Sept. 30 when his contract ended. — Rich Saltzberg

With his contract up, Oak Bluffs interim Fire Chief Martin Greene spent his final day on the job on Sept. 30. Chief Greene said he will “go back into semi-retirement,” which will involve a bit of teaching for places like the Barnstable Fire Academy and a bit of consulting for entities like the Association of American Railroads. A self-described “snowbird,” he also said he will enjoy a long period in Florida beginning this month. 

No other fire chief is waiting in the wings to take Greene’s place, Deputy Chief Manuel Rose said. It was an expectation of command staff and the department as a whole that a new chief would be installed prior to Greene’s exit, he said. Rose said Greene could no longer continue in the capacity he was serving in because it would have conflicted with a previous retirement package. 

Greene said it was a pleasure to work for the department. “I’ve got nothing but good to say about the staff, both EMS and the fire side, they’ve been very helpful to me,” he said. “There really were no issues. An outside chief can be tough on a department, so to speak, but everybody, including my administrative secretary as well as the staff, Deputy Rose, have all been fantastic. I enjoyed it. I’m going to miss it. I worry about them. Just like I [did] when I left my other department. You know, they do a lot of good stuff for the community. There’s a reason you have 200-year-old buildings in this town. Because they do a good job, whether it’s code enforcement issues or response.”

Greene said Oak Bluffs Police Chief Erik Blake will be taking control of the department under the title of public safety director. The Times broke news of this following an Oak Bluffs selectmen’s executive session in September. 

“Blake will be in charge, as I understand it,” Greene said. Most of the details were worked out at town hall, he said. Blake, as he understood, would be in an administrative role. Joining Blake will be retired Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, who will conduct inspections and do some administrative work, Greene said.

“He’s not going to respond,” Greene said of 911 calls. He added that Schilling is expected to start on Oct. 13. “I believe operationally, Deputy Rose will be dealing with actual incidents,” Greene said. 

Rose said, “It’s really kind of unclear” what the town is doing. “It’s not what we wanted, but this is where the selectmen have put us.” He added there are “a lot of unhappy people in the department.”

Rose said the people who work for the fire department have full-time jobs, himself included, and need to be under a full-time chief for many reasons. “We’re kind of going backward,” he said. “They’re not doing what we need.”

Asked if he wanted to be fire chief, Rose said, “I made it very clear I have no interest in being chief.” Manuel Rose is the brother of former Chief John Rose, who departed following sexual harassment claim and ambulance billing anomaly accusations. The town settled the sexual harassment claim against John Rose, and through the department continues to be under scrutiny by the FBI for the billing issues. Manuel Rose was not implicated in either of those things. Rose’s departure led to the town contracting with Greene. 

Chief Blake said he began his new role, which he described as “fairly unprecedented in Massachusetts” but common elsewhere in the county, at midnight, Oct. 1. 

Blake said he hopes a new chief can be developed from within the department in six months to a year, but if not, the possibility of finding one from outside would be on the table. He said the goal is to let the fire department build the future it wants, and to give the firefighters and EMS personnel the opportunity for learning and advancement. Not to give members of the department a shot at advancement “really sounds unfair to me,” he said. He said many models of governing the department will be explored as well. 

Blake said the selectmen have hired him to guide a vision, oversee human resources, budgets, and discipline, and to liaise with the press. “Apparently they appreciate my leadership skills,” he said. 

They hired Schilling to evaluate and to provide recommendations and guidance, he said. “Am I fearful of a fire scene when we don’t have a chief in place? No.”

Blake pointed out a memorandum of understanding is in the works between Edgartown, Tisbury, and Oak Bluffs, so that those two other departments will be able to provide responses to assist the town. Blake said he’s already spoken with Edgartown Fire Chief Alex Schaeffer on the subject, and expects to speak with Tisbury Fire Chief Greg Leland soon. He also said the present command staff at the fire department is populated with many people who are capable of leading a fire scene.

“I’ll never be putting on a hat and putting out a fire,” he said, “but I’ll certainly put on a hat and put out internal stuff.”

Blake admitted it was a dynamic situation, akin to trying to “build an airplane while we’re flying it,” but despite such a challenge, he said, “I’m hopeful. I’m positive.”

Schilling could not immediately be reached for comment.