Sixteen years ago I penned an article on the passing of a dear friend, Denny Silgen, and now it’s with great sadness that I present another. Mark Anthony Martinez, a retired CII, loving husband, father, friend, and mentor passed away on May 8, 2021, in the comfort of his home following a 19-month battle with cancer. Mark was sixty-one years old and leaves behind a beautiful wife, Karen, twin daughters, Rachael and Kaitlyn, and son, Daniel.
As with many of you, I too knew Mark for some time – forty years to be exact. We were drill tower classmates, we both endured Batt. 2 while on probation, were A/O reliefs at FS14, worked alongside and revered many of the same firefighters, and as our careers wound down, we eventually retired within months of one another. Having said that, me gravitating towards Mark had less to do with the aforementioned and more to do with his character and well-balanced approach to both life and work.
Following his retirement, Mark and I continued to talk often. On my drive home I’d eagerly await our morning chats marinated in his animated storytelling and gift of perspective. He’d routinely apprise me on the joys of being a “stay at home” husband/father as well as the tranquility that accompanied his post-LAFD lifestyle. To say I admired Mark would be an understatement – he counseled me when I needed counseling, listened when I needed to be listened to, made me laugh when I was a bit melancholy, and in the end provided a poignant roadmap on how to courageously confront unimaginable adversity.
Mark informed me of his diagnosis a year ago during a phone conversation while driving. Within moments of him saying, “Jer, I have cancer,” I abruptly pulled to the side of the road while wiping away tears and struggling to maintain my composure. I listened intently as he steadily defined his diagnosis, prognosis and forthcoming treatment. Then, in true Mark fashion he altered his tenor to assure me he was determined to fight the good fight, not for himself, mind you, but for his loving family. If any good is to come of this, he said, it’s that my faith and resolve will prevail despite the unfortunate truth and unavoidable outcome.
Mark went on to say few were privy to his illness and insisted I not reveal it to others. Knowing he had a large LAFD friends base who’d be concerned, I questioned his rationale. He explained that if the word got out he would inevitably field endless calls in which the topic of conversation would be his illness. When speaking with friends, Mark said, “I prefer to focus on family, fishing and fine remembrances rather than what afflicts me.” He never took kindly to being the center of attention and this illness wasn’t going to amend that.
During the past four months, Mark spoke more frequently and candidly of the challenges he faced and the prospect of what his future held. I called him in January and to my pleasant surprise he was kayaking on Mission Bay with Daniel. When I mentioned he must be feeling well, he replied, “You know, Jer, I’m not feeling great, but it’s moments like this that I live for.” Mark relished the rapture of floating on a kayak alongside his son together with the simple joy of propelling through the water knowing such moments were ever so fleeting. He went on to say that he’ll treasure these memories well into the afterlife, memories cancer can never take from him or his family. He was determined to enjoy the waning days of his life in an effort to amplify his memory bank for both he and his family.
Jesse Contreras, Mark’s A/O at FS61, told me that Captain Martinez’ influence on his crew was that of a father-figure and mentor more so than a firefighting aficionado. Although most knew of Mark’s technical knowhow and prowess as an A/O, it was his ability as an officer to lead, manage and extract the best from his command that separated him from others. When things went awry he wouldn’t criticize or ostracize, but rather, he’d reverse-engineer an issue and seek a solution. Conversely, when things went well, Mark would credit his command and humbly forego any accolades cast his way. According to Jess and the men of FS61, Captain Martinez was the embodiment of an LAFD officer.
Captain Mark Aguirre was a FF under A/O Martinez for years at FS14. He told me that aside from knowing his job like no other, Mark was a humble man with a great work ethic and as true a friend as a true friend can be. He went on to say A/O Martinez was as pragmatic as he was practical. He recognized the adverse impact stress placed on FF’s in the heat of battle and as such developed sensible SOG’s derived from a wealth of experience. A/O Martinez also coined the term “Short-n-Shallow” as it relates to ventilation and rafter direction. For those unfamiliar with the totality of this concept seek out someone who “opened roofs” with Mark to elucidate; you’ll be glad you did.
Mark was authentic and frank. According him, saying what needed to be said was as good for the soul as it was for the relationship. Thus, when he was diagnosed it was important for him to be as genuine with himself as he had been with others; he could no more reject his prognosis or suffering than reject himself. As such, he was keenly aware that the manner in which he lived was something he could affect, and that regrets would never become an option. From the time of his diagnosis Mark lived each day as if it were his last, ultimately, leaving on his own terms while never losing sight of the man he was.
On May 6, 2021, Selwyn Lloyd, Sean Conway and myself visited with Mark and his beautiful family. It was a visit the three of us have since internalized and a moment in time we shall never forget. Lying in bed with Karen by his side and daughter Rachael massaging his legs, the five of us voiced story after story as Mark lay peacefully, yet silent. For brief moments he’d make eye contact with that trademark piercing glare of his, and with that simple gesture we knew our loving friend was as present as one could be. Two days later, Mark would pass. Although his departure ushered in profound grief, it was a predictable grief escorted-in alongside faith, warmth and loving memories of family and friends.
Karen, Rachael, Kaitlyn and Daniel – as you’re well aware by now, the LAFD expresses our heartfelt sympathy and understanding over the loss of your adored husband and father. We realize no expression of ours can assuage the grief you have experienced, and that the remedy you seek will result from your faith and the passage of time. While your bereavement may at times be overwhelming, forever remember that our love for you is eternal as it is funded by the lives your beloved Mark graced while on God’s good earth.
Mark – you’ll never leave the hearts of those you’ve enriched, and through that, your spirit and teachings will pass from generation to generation.
Till we make relief again, my friend,