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Martinsburg, W.Va., fire chief retiring

December 15, 1999

Martinsburg fire chiefsBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg Fire Chief Phil Martin will end a long career Friday with plenty of memories, some wonderful, some horrible.

cont. from front page

Martin has delivered two babies and seen children die from fires.

Those things make you think about family, he says, and he is retiring to spend more time with his.

"We've had several situations in my career where we've lost children, which is especially devastating because you feel they haven't had a chance to live," said Martin, 51, of Bedington, W.Va.

"The recent fire on Liberty Street, we lost three babies," Martin said.

Martinsburg City Police are still investigating that Nov. 13 fire. Fraternal twins Brandi and Corey Howard, 3, and their brother Mason, 4, died from smoke inhalation and other complications from the fire.

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"It just tugs at your heart to know that there's babies that lose their life in a situation that you're trained and feel obligated to prevent," Martin said.

"You get over those things, but the older you get the harder they are to get over because you end up thinking about your own grandchildren."

Such tragedies make you think "how fortunate you are to have what others lose," Martin said.

Martin, who also is an emergency medical technician, got the chance to assist in the delivery of his first grandchild, Kimberley, five years ago at the hospital. Her twin sister, Jessica, was born shortly after by Caesarean section.

Early in his career, Martin went solo in delivering a baby girl in the back of an ambulance.

"She delivered very quickly," he said.

Martin said he wasn't nearly as scared and nervous the second time around when Kimberley was born, but he did a lot of praying to make sure everything went OK.

"It's a real satisfied feeling to help someone to come into this world, and it's a real devastating feeling to know someone left this world before you were able to help them," he said.

"You see a lot of trauma, a lot of injury and sickness and death, but you're also able to get that good side."

It's not just rescuing someone from a burning building or helping someone who is hanging off a cliff - both of which Martin has done - that have made an impression on him.

He points to a framed letter hanging on his office wall that was written by a young girl in May 1990 to then Capt. Martin.

"Thank you for saving my cat, Cookie. That was very brave to climb to the top of the big tree," the girl wrote.

"To that little girl that was the most important thing to her at that moment. It just gives you a good feeling to help people," Martin said.

In the fire service you have to be prepared for any situation someone can get into, Martin said.

"People talk about Y2K. We're prepared for Y2K every day of the year. That's what the fire department does," whether it's a fire, flood, wreck, fall, power shortage or water shortage, he said.

Martin became a firefighter 30 years ago after going around with his father, a B&O Railroad conductor, as he organized a volunteer fire company in Bedington.

He started out as a volunteer at Bedington and joined Martinsburg's paid fire company in 1969.

His son, Andy, like his father and grandfather before him, is a volunteer firefighter at Bedington.

Now Martin wants to make up for lost time with his 5-year-old granddaughters as well as his wife, Diane.

"I really look forward to retiring. I feel good about what I've done," said Martin, who was promoted to fire chief on Feb. 3, 1996. As chief he oversaw a fire company with 28 members, three fire engines, a ladder truck, three ambulances, two squads and one chief car.

On Saturday, Senior Fire Capt. Brad Waldeck's promotion to fire chief will become effective. Waldeck has been a firefighter since he was 18 years old, the last 24 years with Martinsburg.

Waldeck, 52, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., said his top goal will be to maintain the legacy and tradition the fire department has upheld during Martin's tenure.

"I think he's had a great career here and he'll be missed," Waldeck said.

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