Belen firefighter Christopher Martinez began his career as a musician. He’s played with numerous local bands and had the full “rock and roll experience,” but even then he knew he wanted something more.
“I was just playing music and kind of hit rock bottom at the end with partying and that whole lifestyle,” Martinez said.
It was when he met his wife, Janae, that he realized he wanted to settle down and find a different path — a path that would help people.
“She asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I had to get a real job because I wanted to support my family.”
He often found himself gravitating towards helping other people through the medical field.
He was an escort for the X-ray department for three years at Presbyterian Hospital. Martinez enjoyed meeting patients and getting to know them, but he knew he wanted to do more.
“My wife said, ‘You like helping people, why don’t you become a firefighter?’” Martinez said.
“It was hard for me to leave the music scene, and knowing I was a good drummer, felt like I was letting that talent go to waste.”
He recalls a specific incident around that time when he came upon a motorcycle wreck and the driver was badly injured.
“He was in pretty bad shape,” Martinez said. “There was just a huge crowd standing around him. Everyone was helpless; no one knew what to do. It was at that point that I realized I need to go to school for this and learn what to do.”
An Albuquerque native, Martinez made his way down to Belen in 2010 when he started as a volunteer at the fire station.
“I always liked helping people. I was always that person to pull over and help people change a tire or give their car a jump,” Martinez said. “I like helping people. If I see something we could do that’s a little extra, I just take the time and ask, ‘What’s it going to hurt?’”
For Martinez, doing tasks like this is second nature to him.
“I think being firefighters, all of us like going that extra step. If we’re at Walmart and see someone struggling to load a bag of dog food, we run over there to help them,” he said. “Our minds are trained to keep an eye out for everything.”
“It’s just part of being a firefighter and a human being — taking care of people is what we should all be doing.”
Martinez was hired with the Belen Fire Department in 2011. When reflecting on where he started, he said he was proud of the progress he’s made.
“I started off from the bottom and not really knowing anything. The more experienced firefighters took me under their wing and mentored me,” Martinez said. “Now that I’ve been here for almost 10 years, I see myself as that person who is the mentor to the new people coming in.”
He emphasizes the importance of being a good firefighter and a good person to those coming in.
“Being a good firefighter means knowing your training and being a good role model,” Martinez said. “I know when we have to get serious but I try to be a happy person and patient. I don’t think my crew has ever seen me mad.”
Leaving a legacy behind is important to him. He does what he can to help everyone at the station feel more comfortable. He’ll bring paintings from his house or put up shelves at the station.
“When I leave, I want to leave something behind,” Martinez said.
“Me and my guys are always putting pictures up at the station trying to make it a better place and make it feel like home.”
Martinez said cooking at the station and having a meal together is the way he likes to have bonding time with his team. They’ll even invite the Belen police officers over to grill and hang out.
Belen Fire Chief Brett Ruff spoke of an instance when the department got called to a local elderly couple’s house. The husband was mowing the lawn and got too hot and had to stop because he felt ill. Martinez noticed the lawn hadn’t been finished and finished it himself.
“His heart is so compelled to help other people in the community,” Ruff said.
“He’s always looking for those situations to go above and beyond his obligations.”
In another instance, a woman was suffering from chest pains and called the department to come to her house.
“She was in the middle of cooking dinner and told them to shut off the stove and put the food away,” Ruff said.
Martinez and the others who were called decided to finish cooking the dinner, sat her down for dinner and when they were done eating, they washed the dishes.
“They walked away not wanting anything, and they take care of these people,” Ruff said. “This is just an example of how he cares about the community and that’s how they make Belen better.”