Retired Carmel Firefighter Jim Martin

Burning Commitment – Jim Martin

December 3, 1960, is a date retired Carmel Firefighter Jim Martin will never forget. As a young man on that fateful day, he was at work at his father’s garage on Carmel’s far west side when he and his brother looked up and saw black smoke in the sky above the town of Carmel. Through instinct, curiosity or both, they jumped in the car and went towards the fire.

They came upon a large grass fire approaching a barn and realized they had to help the volunteer firefighters on the scene. After successfully saving the barn, Assistant Chief Skip Clark told the boys, “We need firefighters on the west side of Carmel. We have a meeting tonight – you should attend and join us.”

That same afternoon, responding to another grass fire, a car turned in front of Clark while he was driving, and he lost his life in the line of duty. It was a devastating blow to the community and pivotal day in the life of Jim Martin, as he tells the story and recalls the sadness. Martin joined as a volunteer and eventually became the fifth full-time, paid Carmel firefighter. In 1988 Carmel eliminated the last volunteer and became a professional, full-time staffed and paid fire department.

Martin is well-known for sitting atop vintage fire trucks at CarmelFest, delivering Santa to Christkindlmarkt, and attending various parades and neighborhood events. Since retiring as assistant fire chief in 1996, he is responsible for starting, loving and caring for Carmel’s rich fire department history as president of the Carmel Fire Buffs & Fire Department Museum, Inc.

Since Mayor Dotty Hancock agreed to rent the abandoned, first Carmel fire station to the Fire Buffs for $5 annually, Martin has led the charge in obtaining and restoring antique fire apparatus, safety gear and memorabilia. Soon you will be able to enjoy those memories in the brand-new home of the Fire Buffs Museum at 210 Veterans Way, exactly where that first fire station stood.

Martin is well-known for sitting atop vintage fire trucks at CarmelFest, delivering Santa to Christkindlmarkt, and attending various parades and neighborhood events.

In 1989 Martin happened to be at a factory looking at a potential new truck for Carmel, when he spotted an old 1953 Seagrave that had seen better days. The owner said Martin could have it for $1,000. He called the firehouse back in Carmel and Firefighter John Moriarty answered the phone. “Get 10 guys to chip in $100 and we have our first truck for the Fire Buffs,” Martin said at the time.

True to Carmel Fire Department style, Moriarty came up with 18 donations and the truck was on its way to Carmel. Eighteen is the official number in the center of the Fire Buffs logo and forever honors those first donations.

In 1994 I had my first turn at chairing CarmelFest. The event was growing quickly and we decided to move the event from the Carmel High School football stadium to Civic Square at City Hall. We worried about parking, so Martin, using his own time and trucks, went to the Indiana State Fair and towed five people-mover trailers back to Carmel to run parking shuttles.

“The Fire Buffs museum provided a place for the history of the Carmel Clay Fire Department to be housed,” said current Carmel Fire Chief David Haboush. “With Chief Martin’s leadership, the Fire Buffs were able to have antique firetrucks located in, and proudly preserve, the original Carmel Fire headquarters building.”

In order for the new Fire Buffs to properly house the memorabilia they have in storage, they need to purchase five more glass display cases costing $1,200 each. If you can help, please call 317-696-0162 for details.

Carmel’s first engine is being restored, led by retired Firefighter Gary Dufek, and will someday take its rightful place back in the first fire-station-turned-museum. With Martin’s dedication to this community and love for each and every firefighter and the fire service, Engine #1 can now return to hallowed ground.

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