Misconduct Plagues Embattled New York State Fire Department

While the city police department has been plagued for years by problems, a dark cloud has now moved over the fire department.

In less than a month, a deputy fire chief has been suspended for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and another firefighter has been charged with drunken driving. Now two more men on the 117-member force face 60-day suspensions after testing positive for marijuana in random urine tests, according to city officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The two firefighters, whose identities were not released by the city, must see a counselor and pass a urine test before they can return after their two-month suspension is over, officials said. They face further discipline and job loss if they fail future tests.

City officials said it was the first time someone has failed a drug test since random testing of firefighters began in January 2003.

Fire Chief Robert Farstad refused to acknowledge that any of his subordinates failed a drug test, citing city-employee confidentiality rules. But he insisted that the recent string of problems for department personnel was an anomaly.

"Like any organization and any entity, you have people who occasionally don't behave to the highest levels," he said. "We have personnel matters that we have dealt with in the past. We'll have personnel matters in the future that we'll deal with, and we're dealing with personnel matters now."

From 1999 to 2002, the police department was the focus of an FBI investigation that led to the four officers going to prison on corruption charges. A federal civil rights investigation is continuing.

But the spotlight has shifted to the fire department, for which the drug tests are the latest in a string of embarrassing incidents.

Early Monday morning, 44-year-old firefighter William R. Martin was charged with driving while intoxicated in Glenville after he allegedly stopped his car at an intersection and adjusted the fog lights on a sport utility vehicle that was stopped behind him, police said.

"He didn't like the way they were shining in his car, I guess," Officer Michael Lamb said.

The SUV's driver called police, and Lamb stopped Martin's vehicle after he passed by the police station at Glenridge Road. Martin was arrested after he failed an alcohol breath test, town police said. Martin was released on appearance tickets.

Farstad declined to say what, if any, penalty Martin will face when he returns to work from vacation.

Deputy Fire Chief Edward Marquette was put on paid administrative leave in the wake of his June 20 arrest for allegedly trying to restrain a woman inside his truck and then putting sunscreen in her eyes. When she fled, the 54-year-old Marquette threw her against a tree and stepped on her wrist, police said. Marquette was charged with unlawful imprisonment and assault.

Mayor Brian U. Stratton, who is on vacation, could not be reached Wednesday.

But members of the City Council said they hoped the incidents were just a coincidence.

"I know the chief's concerned because he's managed a tight ship over the years," City Council President Frank Maurizio said.

Cathy Lewis, the lone Republican on the council, said, "I certainly hope this is the last we see of this."