By Jessica Hoover
“My deafness doesn’t define me but my deafness enabled me to find myself.”
These are the words of George Martin, a Fishers resident who volunteers with the Fishers Fire Corps, among many other organizations, and who aims to make the community a better and safer place.
When Martin was born, he was diagnosed as hard at hearing, but he is now completely deaf. He can speak and sometimes read lips but said communication can still be a struggle, especially when he was growing up.
“When I was younger it was very difficult not being able to hear things or understand words that were spoken,” Martin said. “I was often made fun of because I couldn’t hear. I grew up before ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), so there wasn’t access to quality education. There are always difficulties in life, and although communication is certainly a challenge, I have always been eager to bridge the gap between the hearing and the deaf community.”
By volunteering with the Fire Corps, Martin is doing just that. With the help of an interpreter, he has been able to aid firefighters of the Fishers Fire Dept. since 2009.
The primary duty of a member of the Fire Corps is to provide rehabilitation support in emergency situations, such as keeping the firefighters hydrated during a fire. Some Fire Corps volunteers, including Martin, educate the community about fire safety after completing a 10-week course. According to FFD Capt. John Mehling, by educating others, Martin has become “the voice that brings the community together.”
“George loves people, he cares about people,” Mehling said. “There are certain needs that other people have, whether they’re deaf, whether they’re blind, whether they’re in a wheelchair or whatever the case may be. George wants to make sure that everybody has the same opportunity to receive those same messages to help keep them safe.”
One situation in which Martin has helped keep the community safe was during the 2010 Freedom Festival. A tornado warning was issued during the festival, and a crowd of approximately 25 deaf citizens was unaware where to seek shelter. Martin was able to communicate in American Sign Language and get them to safety.
With 4 to 6 percent of the Hamilton County population being deaf or hearing impaired, Martin wants to show them that everyone has a unique purpose.
“I hope I am encouraging the deaf community to reach out and find their niche in their community as well,” Martin said. “If a deaf child comes in and sees a deaf guy training fire safety, then that child’s perception of what they can do and how they can fit in changes. And if a hearing child comes in and sees a deaf person training fire safety with the fire department, then their perception of deaf and hard of hearing people changes. That’s what I want to do. I want each child to know and adult to be reminded that no matter who they are or what their strengths or weaknesses, they can make a difference.”
How to get involved
To join the Fishers Fire Corps, candidates must be at least 18 years old, pass a criminal background check, have a high school diploma or GED and complete the Fire Corps application. For more, visit fishers.in.us/index.aspx?NID=235.