Franklin - When Jim Martins skated on a city pond as a youngster and later helped park cars for attendees of St. Martins Fair, he had no idea that he would be drawn back to the community to serve as its fire chief.
Now, with a decade of memories, Martins will bid adieu to his position when he retires on Dec. 12.
"We used to come out here because my aunt and uncle lived on St. Martins Road," he said. "At the time, it was like coming out to the country."
The country, he found out, grew up into a fast-growing community with rural roots and situated just minutes from Milwaukee.
By the time he arrived in 2002, Martins already was a veteran Milwaukee firefighter and deputy chief. He spent three decades in that department serving a variety of roles, including leading special teams for rescues and hazardous materials. He pursued the Franklin position after colleagues pointed out the community may want to go outside for its next chief.
"The process took a long time," he said. "I thought they may have changed their mind about going outside when I was called back for another interview."
Early budget woes
He found out that the city, like many other communities, was challenged by budgetary constraints. He was asked about it in an early local newspaper interview. The question made him wonder if he had made the right move.
"The budget was a key focus of the community," Martin said. "I recognized, though, that there was an excellent group of people in the department."
Faced shrinking financial resources in a city that was considered one of the fastest growing in the state, Martin said the key was taking advantage of an array of grant funds from various sources, especially the federal sources in the wake of 9-11.
"We have been able to address needs such as improving equipment for communications," he said, as well as adding to and improving basic firefighting equipment.
Improving fire inspection services that upgraded prevention devices, such as detectors and alarms in residential commercial and industrial buildings, was a little more difficult.
"We upgraded the requirements for those inspections and that did not make some people happy," Martins said. "It meant that builders and current owners would have to spend more money. But if you look at it, spending $10,000 upfront, for example, when you have a fire that could cost you $50,000 is money well spent."
The chief said he credits most residents and business owners for keeping up with those requirements.
"I think people see the benefit," he said.
Over the past decade, the department has replaced an outdated station at 47th Street and Drexel Avenue and grown its paramedic services from one to three units.
In his final weeks, Martin is busy working to fill several vacancies in the 45-position crew. He said it has been a rough year for mostly non-job injuries and working with overtime.
"I wish it had not happened during my last year, but you can't really control that," he said.
What he has been able to do is impress those who know him.
Mayor Tom Taylor has said he counts Martins a valuable member of the city's quality department heads.
Others also recently noted his virtues.
"He did an excellent job," said Fred Klimetz, who served as mayor when Martins was hired. "You know, when he was hired, I told him he had a lot to live up to working in a community that had a St. Martins Road. He may not have made it to sainthood, but he did all right."
Robert Donohoo, chair of the Police and Fire Commission for half of Martins' tenure, said his view is simple but an important part of the chief's legacy.
"He's just a good chief," Donohoo said. "He's smart and he knows his job. That and the fact that he's a nice person and down to earth is all you need to know."
Cathy Heder, longtime department secretary, said Martins is personable.
"Coming from the Milwaukee department, he is not what I expected when he came here," she said. "He was not formal and has always been very personable. He understands that others with kids have family obligations, too."
Will stay active
Martins said he is looking forward to an active retirement, traveling with his wife, Bonnie, with whom he raised two children who were already grown by the time he became Franklin's fire chief.
"We will travel," he said, noting an Alaskan cruise planned for next May. "I'm going to take a month off and then see what other opportunities there are. I'm through with fire service, though I will consider consulting. I can tell you one thing, though - I won't be sitting around watching TV."
He said he will take good memories from Franklin.
"I know that this is not that original, but I will miss the interaction with the folks at the fire service," he said. "I've always enjoyed grabbing a cup of coffee and sitting down with everyone and catching up. This is like a family."
IN THE INTERIM
Acting Franklin Fire Chief: Adam Remington (starting Dec. 13)
Process: The Police and Fire Commission will set the timeline.
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