COOS BAY — For many, retirement means a life of peaceful relaxation. For retired Battalion Chief Dean Martin, 55, it means a chance to dig into his passions.
“I like to cook,” he says on Thursday afternoon, in a small makeshift kitchen in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality building off North Second Street. “One of things I looked at doing when I retired was going to culinary school.”
Martin pauses to methodically scoop gallons of thick, dark chocolate fudge out of a heated, stainless steel mixing pot.
The viscous liquid cascades elegantly into a small rectangular baking sheet, which Martin begins to mix with several scoops of English black walnuts.
“I knew I was going to retire at some point, so my thought was to start my business and get it going so when I retired I would have something to do,” he says. “Not that I don’t have enough to do.”
The retired Coos Bay firefighter named his business after the location it was conceived, at work.
His “Firehouse Fudge” can be purchased at local markets — he gave the product a test run in Roseburg last year — and is readily available for groups and organizations hosting fundraisers.
The success, he says, took him by surprise. “I started this business and it took off, so I retired.”
It’s new territory for Martin, who has been fighting fires since he was 16, where he volunteered with the Rogue River Fire District.
“Back then there wasn’t the requirements as they are now,” he says, resting his burly, barrel chested frame on a small plastic chair. “I walked in and said I wanted to be a volunteer. I said ‘my name was Dean Martin’ and everyone laughed. Then I got a set of gear and a helmet and that night I was hanging off the back of a truck going to a house fire.”
Martin would close out his colorful career as a firefighter with 37 years under his belt, 28 of those years being a certified paramedic.
During that time, he earned several awards, including the American Legion Firefighter of the Year for Oregon and National Firefighter of the Year for the Pacific Northwest Region.
“I got to do lots and lots of things,” he says. “I delivered five kids — including two of my own — and three out in the field. I had the privilege of rescuing somebody out of a burning building. I got to be in charge of a major conflagration. Oregon Department of Forestry even asked me to write the protocol on how to set up a medical tent out in the field for a forest fire.”
According to Martin, all civil servants like firefighters, police officers and paramedics can do is be the best they can possibly be.
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"If you have a plumber come to your house and you don't like his work, you get a new plumber," he explains. "You call 9-1-1 for fire or paramedics, you don't get an option, you get what's there. So if you're not the best you can be, you're not providing a service that you could provide to those people. We don't get the opportunity to choose who live and dies because that's God, but we do get to be that avenue maybe to save that person for awhile, or God uses us to save that person so that they live again."
After so many years of service, Martin admits there is plenty he will miss; namely being able to help other people and save lives. But what he will miss the most, he says, is the camaraderie with his fellow firefighters.
“It’s the people I will miss the most. The family group of the fire department is something I will always remember and always miss because you are family. You put your life in your partner’s and buddies’ hands and they do the same. You do off-duty stuff together: picnics, friends’ kids’ graduations, dinners. You do those kind of things because they are an extension of your family."
And for Martin and his seven kids and gaggle of grandchildren, family is everything.
“Every time I hear a siren I look around,” he says. “But my family keeps me busy, my grandkids keep me busy, my business keeps me busy.”
Martin’s wife of 20 years, Michelle, says her husband’s retirement "will take some getting used to" but shouldn’t be too difficult.
“Now that he’s home every day it will be different,” she says. “I think I’ll have more to adjust to than he will.”
Michelle, the daughter of Rogue River’s former fire chief, says she was well aware of all the idiosyncrasies of “fire life” when she married Martin.
“I never got too worried (about him). He didn’t come back [from work] and tell (what had happened). We had a (scanner) at the house and would hear things periodically but I never was really concerned in that way. He was protected and if it was his time to go, it was his time to go and there was nothing I could to do to change that. You just had to trust it wasn’t his time yet.”
Coos Bay’s Fire Chief Mark Anderson says he just hopes Martin enjoys his retirement as a full-time grandfather.
“It’s fair to say the last couple of years as his supervisor I’ve really come to appreciate his leadership, his judgment and his reliability. I consider him a friend and am sad to see him leave the department but I’m happy for him as he embarks on a new chapter of life.”
As for Martin, he says he hopes he just learns to relax a little more.
“I don’t know if that need (to follow the sound of sirens to a fire) will ever go away. I’m just me; nobody special.”