BELOIT - Lt. Paul Martin says being a firefighter made him a better man.
Known for his servant leadership, Martin wasn't above cleaning the station toilets prior to his retirement party.
Martin, lovingly called "Sarge," served more than 29 years at the Beloit Fire Department.
Although Martin recalled seeing Smokey the Bear as a child, he said he never really considered being a firefighter until adulthood. He had finished four years of service in the Air Force and was working at a rent-to-own store when he heard about job openings with police and fire service. After extensive physical tests and competing against hundreds of other applicants, he was a bit surprised when he was offered the job at the fire department.
On his first day, he was called out to a structure fire in Beloit's downtown.
"Riding on the back of the engine, I was thinking 'what did I get myself into?' I could see the glow in the sky," he said.
Once battling the fire, Martin said he knew he was going to like the job, which he compared to war.
"You assess it, size it up, and relay to the commander what you do and need," he said. "It's taking an out of control situation and trying to contain and mitigate it."
Martin also liked making a difference and giving back to the community. He found people in crisis grateful for his help.
"If you can take that situation and make it better for them, it makes you a better person," he said.
He also enjoyed serving as a role model for the many kids who would smile and wave at him on the fire engine.
"I liked the opportunity to represent the community," he said.
In addition to being a formal leader, Chief Brad Liggett said Martin was a great example of a servant leader. Martin also served on the executive board for the Local 583 for a number of years.
Martin said firefighting tends to change all those who do it. The crew becomes like family - learning to work with different personalities and act as a team. After particularly heart-wrenching calls, the crew members would rely on each other for camaraderie.
"It's all a group effort. You learn to depend on each other and work with each other," he said.
Martin said he was grateful his fellow firefighters helped keep him safe so he would be at his retirement party.
Although he will miss firefighting, Martin said it was time to retire after the wear and tear of the occupation on his body. However, he is considering lending his expertise regarding fire service to either the Police and Fire Commission or the city council.
He is the son of the late William R. Martin, who ran a boxing team in Beloit, and mom Sadie Martin of Beloit. He has one son, Miles Martin, 15.