Rather than bring the original thread back here is the link. Firefighter's Accused

After leaving his position as a Fire Commissioner for Spring Hill Fire Rescue District for Active Duty in Iraq in the midst of turmoil, Commissioner Martin returns to find changes to the District. But still sees turmoil and unfinished business
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St. Petersburg Times--Hernando Times
Home fires, issues kept burning for official
A Spring Hill fire commissioner called to war amid a district scandal faces unfinished business.
By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
Published January 14, 2004

SPRING HILL - A year ago, Spring Hill Fire Rescue Commissioner Richard Martin was pushing for a tough examination of the problems brought to light by a sex scandal within the fire district.

But his efforts were brought to an abrupt end on Jan. 15 when Martin, a longtime Army reservist, was told to pack his gear and report for duty in operation Enduring Freedom.

From the controversies of the fire district, Martin stepped into a desert camouflage uniform for duty that would eventually have him crisscrossing the Persian Gulf in support of America's military campaign in Iraq.

Martin spent 111/2 months on active duty - about half the time stateside, half working from a base in Kuwait - as a sergeant on a marine transport vessel that moved equipment and supplies.

He returned home safely to his family in Spring Hill just three weeks before Christmas, with his service officially ending Dec. 28.

Having served during wartime in a job that frequently took him to ports in Iraq, it would be understandable if Martin felt the controversies he left behind in Spring Hill somehow seemed less important now. But that's not the case.

Martin is eager to get back to his duties on the fire commission and see if the problems he left behind were properly dealt with.

"My wartime military service has made me less tolerant of nonsense," he said.

Before he left, Martin was beating a drum on several issues.

He had raised concerns that the fire district should to pay more attention to the physical fitness of its firefighters, an issue that won few friends among the rank-and-file firefighters.

And much more controversial were Martin's stands on the sex scandal involving three firefighters accused of raping a college student at a drunken party near Orlando in 2002. The firefighters said the sex was consensual. Prosecutors found insufficient evidence for charges. The men were eventually punished by the department.

Martin contended that two of the men should have been fired rather than suspended. He said the fire chief's investigation into the scandal was flawed. He criticized fellow commissioner Tommy Marasciullo for allowing one of the suspended firefighters to work at his private business. And he said a videotape shot by the woman - she was making a documentary film on firefighters - revealed a broader problem with sexual harassment demanding "behavior modification."

A copy of the tape never found its way into the fire district's hands. The chief was given a $4,000 pay raise and commendations from three of the four remaining commissioners. And the department tried to put the sex scandal aside. Martin says he is still reviewing a year's worth of paperwork on fire district business and that it take some time see where things stand. "I'm not looking to be an instigator," he said. "But if there is an issue I feel did not have a satisfactory outcome, I would like to bring it up."

Because Martin says he has work that is left undone by his year's absence, he plans to run for re-election to the fire board this fall.

A native of the Bahamas who became an U.S. citizen in 1988, Martin came to Spring Hill in 1997. He works as a territory manager for a company that deals in outdoor power equipment.

Citing the Army's request for discretion, Martin would go into few details about his wartime service, the threats he faced or his assessment of how things are going in Iraq. But having gone to war for a country he adopted has made him feel more vested in America than ever.

"I have no regrets serving my country," Martin said.

Still, his service took him away from his wife, Candy, and their two small children - Tiffany, 31/2, and Douglas, 16 months. When he left, Douglas was a baby, and Tiffany was learning to talk.

He said his wife deserves credit for taking good care of the household and the kids, and he expressed appreciation for friends who helped with yard work. But since his return, Martin has been catching up on neglected chores - painting, home repairs and even organizing the garage.

Still, handling the fire district's business must wait a while longer. Martin said he will not be able to attend today's fire board meeting because its 9 a.m. start conflicts with his work, a situation he hopes the board will remedy by rescheduling all its meetings at night, as was the case before he left.

- Robert King covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send e-mail to rking@sptimes.com

[Last modified January 14, 2004, 01:33:12]