At Your Service...

The call to action for Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Martin comes in a series of annoying beeps and buzzes. For Kelly, the sounds mean jumping into PM-36, an ambulance, to go to work as a paramedic. For Jay, the noise summons him to Engine-36, a pumper, to fight fire as a watch commander.

They both work under the same roof---the Annapolis Fire Department's Eastport station. In fact, they first met there. And their relationship developed there.

Here's how it happened: Kelly, a newcomer to the AFD, was assigned to an ambulance in 1992, the same year Jay was promoted as an emergency medical services lieutenant. "I was her supervisor," says Jay. "I think she hated me. I can be a tough supervisor and my bar is pretty high."

She doesn't remember it that way. "He was first my training officer. We worked together for three years and were just friends, professionally. I didn't forget he was my boss. I think we got a lot of any possible personality problems out of the way by working together back then."

They worked together, then they dated, and then were married in 2000, the second marriage for both. "It was a fire department wedding," she says. "I think we started out with 100 guests. And that quickly grew to 200. Two big tents and a deejay. A retired police chaplain conducted the service."

They live in an old house in Presidents Hill. In addition to their courtship and home, they share similar backgrounds. Both got interested in their line of work as teenagers. She volunteered at the Queenstown firehouse on the Eastern Shore. "It just sounded exciting to me," she says facetiously. "I liked hanging out there with friends. I liked the cute little outfits. But I guess I really liked the excitement. We were near the 50-301 split, so there was a lot going on there."

The action there, and other factors, persuaded her to forego dreams of getting into law enforcement and start studying to become a cardiac rescue technician. That eventually brought her to Annapolis.

Jay, a fifth-generation Annapolitan, attended St. Mary's. While at Annapolis High School, he was a volunteer with the AFD, as his father had been, and then joined the force right after graduation, in 1984. He served as a paramedic his first 15 years.

He will have served 20 years by 2004. In that year, Jay may retire, at the age of 38. He has a goal in mind.

"I want to be a fire chief," he says with certainty. "Let me rephrase that: I'm going to be a fire chief." Yes, he acknowledges that his age could work against him; fire chiefs don't come that young. "The question is where," he adds. "We would really like to stay close to this area."

In the meantime, there's work to be done. Both come on duty every third day---24 straight hours in the firehouse, including sleeping there, then 48 hours off. Scheduling does not mean they are in the station at the same time. For example, Kelly worked the Main Street fire on Dec. 9, 1997. Jay did not.

"The Main Street fire was the longest night of my life," says Kelly of the landmark blaze. "It was the night that never ended." Her jobs included clearing threatened buildings of people (some of whom were reluctant to leave) and manning a deck gun (by sitting on it, all of her 110 pounds), among other duties on that very hectic night.

She remembers being glad in all that mess that there was no wind to fan and expand the blaze and that utility lines had just been buried during the repaving of Main Street. That cleared the way overhead and made it easier to move ladders around.

Kelly calls Eastport "a night-running station" where the beeps and buzzes seem to come "right after we've gone to sleep."

She's been involved in everything from childbirth to death. She says she is unfazed by some of the more extreme emergencies she's summoned to, the shootings, the deathbed cases. "I focus on the job in front of me," she says. "I can't allow myself to get upset or be distracted. I think if anything does upset me, it's when kids are involved."

Kelly can sound like an old pro. When it rains she knows accidents can occur on Forest Drive more frequently than not, especially near Hilltop Lane and Bywater Road. The intersection at Georgetown East and Bay Ridge and outbound Rowe Boulevard are also common places for mishaps. Alcohol, motorists using cell phones, aggressive drivers all can contribute to accidents almost anywhere.

Some people abuse the system. Among them are "frequent flyers," folks whose first names and supposed maladies are known, people who really don't need an ambulance. Paramedics can't choose who they're going to run and help, or not.

"We're here and we'll come," Kelly says. "You call. We haul. That's our motto." Remarkably, paramedics sometimes have to struggle to maneuver through inattentive motorists on emergency calls and occasionally tolerate abusive crowds in some public settings.

Those negative experiences pale in comparison to a sense of accomplishment and gratitude from people who are helped. "A little thank you note from an old lady you've helped overcomes all the abuse you get," she says.

She added that calls have dramatically increased during her time in Eastport---"three calls a day 10 years ago. Now maybe 12 or 15 on a busy day."

Jay has seen changes, too. "The demographics in Annapolis are demanding a more professional attitude, more professional performance," he says. "Twenty-five years ago the guys would come back to the firehouse and drink a beer after fighting a fire. That was acceptable back then. That's definitely not the case now."

Classrooms are very familiar places for both Martins. Kelly is almost constantly taking courses, many of which are required for her job and for advancement. She got into a paramedic program on her own and worked hands-on in the emergency rooms of several Baltimore hospitals. She's taken courses in such subjects as ventilation, "aerial operations" (working the ladder truck), learning how to teach CPR. She is currently studying Spanish, "to help us communicate" with Annapolis' fast-growing Hispanic community.

Jay earned a bachelor of science degree in emergency health service management two years ago at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He then got his master's in the same field, and now he is working for a Ph.D. in public management. He hopes to earn his doctorate in two years.

"Maybe," he says of that goal. Kelly learned early this spring that she is pregnant, and the word "maybe" comes into play when folks reckon with their future and young kids. The future and kids figure in their thoughts about September 11. Both have deep impressions of that day.

Kelly had come on duty that morning and watched the horrific events unfold on a TV in the firehouse common room. "There was a sinking feeling we all had," she says of her and her mates. Like millions of mothers across the country her thoughts went frequently to her kids, Taylor and Ashlee, then in school. "It was a very, very sad day."

The day had a similar impact on Jay. "I had just gotten off from work, at 8, and I was with my dad in Hillsmere," he says. "Like most people I first thought it was one hell of an accident. When the second plane hit the Trade Center the last thing I wanted to admit to myself was that it was a terrorist act. Then the Pentagon was hit, and then there wasn't any doubt. "I went home to prepare to come back to work, if they needed me." The call did not come.

"I thought the buildings would burn down to the level where the planes hit," he says. "But when that first tower went down I said to myself, 'My God, there must be hundreds of guys in there.'" The guys were fellow fire fighters. "I remember thinking, over and over, there were an awful lot of firemen in all that destruction."


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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