Move to remove Port Ludlow fire chief falls short in close vote

Fire commissioners keep Chief Martin on board, plan to hire assistant

Posted 3/5/21

Port Ludlow Chief Brad Martin came within one vote of losing his job.

After a review of an outside investigation into allegations of misdeeds by the fire chief made by the firefighters union, the …

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Move to remove Port Ludlow fire chief falls short in close vote

Fire commissioners keep Chief Martin on board, plan to hire assistant

Posted

Port Ludlow Chief Brad Martin came within one vote of losing his job.

After a review of an outside investigation into allegations of misdeeds by the fire chief made by the firefighters union, the fire commissioners for the Port Ludlow Fire Department voted against a move to terminate Martin’s employment contract and put him on administrative leave.

The vote at last week’s fire commissioners’ meeting was 3-2 against the termination, with Fire Commissioners Raelene Rossart and Robert Pontius voting for the chief’s removal, and Commissioners Gene Carmody, Ed Davis, and Ron Helmonds voting against it.

On a subsequent vote, the board agreed on a 3-2 vote — along the same lines — to hire an assistant chief to relieve pressure on the chief.

The two crucial votes came after multiple closed-door executive sessions that were held by the board in the past two months to discuss the chief and an investigation report that was presented to the board Feb. 10.

The investigation into Martin, conducted by attorney Tom Burke, was ordered by the board late last year after the firefighters union took a vote of “no confidence” in Martin and submitted multiple letters alleging misdeeds by the chief.

Martin and Carmody, the chair of the fire commissioners board and the district secretary, did not respond to requests for comment by The Leader earlier this week.

LACK OF LEADERSHIP

The vote, the first ever by Local 3811 against their chief, faulted Martin for a lack of strategic planning and the loss of career firefighters who have taken jobs with other departments. 

The union said the lack of planning in the department was a primary factor in the departure of five career firefighters in the past two years.

In a second letter of allegations that stretched for five pages, Wicus McGuffey, president of Jefferson County Professional Firefighters, raised additional claims of “Chief Martin’s failures to lead.”

McGuffey did not respond to a request for comment last week.

In his second letter to commissioners, McGuffey claimed the chief had failed to properly manage the department’s staffing, and recalled an aid call to assist a 100-year-old man on Aug. 26.

McGuffey said other firefighters had been dispatched to other alarms, leaving only an off-duty firefighter who was on probation to respond to the aid call. McGuffey criticized Martin for not responding to the medical emergency himself, calling it a “gross failure.”

“There is also the issue of Chief Martin frequently responding to emergency incidents, both in the district and outside the district, with his family members in the command vehicle, to include minor children who are left without adult supervision on emergency scenes,” McGuffey wrote. 

“There have been specific cases of one of his minor children being outside of the vehicle on working fires in an area that would be considered the ‘hot zone’ and where a minor child was left unsupervised in the command vehicle that was positioned on a high speed roadway in precarious conditions of limited visibility and icy road conditions,” McGuffey added. “This is not only a significant liability, but discredits the professionalism of PLFR in the eyes of our mutual aid partners.”

McGuffey also raised additional allegations of what he said were examples of a lack of organizational oversight and mismanagement in the department by Martin, which included staffing issues as well as the purchase of a new command vehicle, which McGuffey noted exceeded by $18,600 the $75,000 that was budgeted for the vehicle and was made without fire commissioners’ approval.

Martin has not addressed the complaints in detail in public. At the time the letters from the union were made public, Martin said in an email he thought the allegations were without merit.

MOVING ON

Rossart, the commission who initiated the vote for Martin’s termination, said she hoped replacing the chief would have put an end to turmoil in the department.

“I feel like I certainly would have liked to put closure to this immediately and listen to my union,” she said.

“But that’s why we have a commission. I will absolutely support now what the decision was,” Rossart said. 

The concerns of the firefighters were made clear, she added.

“They spelled it out pretty concisely in their letters what their issues were. And I feel that they had some valid complaints,” she added.

“Anytime when you have somebody at the top of the structure who doesn’t have the confidence of the people who work for him or her, 

I think that you have a very, very difficult situation.”

“And there are many ways to resolve that situation,” Rossart continued. 

The commissioner said that, given what she knows, the best solution “was to just part ways and everybody go on with their business.” 

“That vote did not carry,” she said.

Rossart said she hoped someone would be hired “hopefully very soon to come in and start, at least, healing things.”

Rossart said adding an assistant chief, and another layer between the chief and the rank-and-file, won’t resolve the lack of confidence in leadership.

“It doesn’t solve that,” Rossart said.

The board did not discuss the process for hiring an assistant chief at last week’s meeting.

REPORT STAYS SECRET

The two votes taken by the board were called after private discussions on the allegations.

The investigation report was not made public.

The Leader had requested the report, but the department’s attorney said it was not subject to release because it was attorney-client privileged communications, and was prepared in anticipation of litigation.

Rossart said she found the report helpful, to a point.

“The investigation report was a tool. There were a lot of things that I personally weighed,” she said. “The investigation report honestly didn’t play that large of a role in my decision one way or the other.

“This was a substantial decision that none of us took lightly,” Rossart said. “This decision weighed on us all very heavily. We came down with different outcomes.”

I don’t hold any animosity to the fact that I didn’t say get my way. We will move forward as an organization and I think we definitely also now have some serious work to do with the union and building that relationship. In addition, together, in getting another employee in there and figuring out how we can help the chief.”

Now, the leadership of the department has to figure out how to mend its relationship with the union, she said.

“We are all elected officials. We have some work to do,” she said.

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