Martin officially named Sterling Heights fire chief

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 2, 2013


Chris Martin had a familiar figure by his side, as he formally accepted the position of Sterling Heights fire chief Dec. 18.

The third-generation firefighter’s father, Mike, attached the chief badge to his son’s uniform at City Hall that evening, following City Council’s unanimous confirmation of Martin’s appointment.

“If it’s not for my grandfather and father before me, I wouldn’t be standing here,” said Martin. “Throughout my career, I’ve been promoted to lieutenant, captain and battalion chief, and each time, my father has pinned my badge on me.” 

After the ritual was complete, Martin and his father embraced, as friends and family snapped photos and the audience applauded.

Martin joked that the promotion was a “very good Christmas present” and said he felt grateful to have “two great families”: his blood relatives and his Fire Department colleagues.

“I have poured my heart and soul into this organization for as long as I’ve been here and made it what it is today — part of that — but I’ve only been one person, because it’s a great organization, and everybody has chipped in to put it where it is today,” he told council members. “I assure you that I’ll do my best to make sure that the Fire Department continues to offer the services that we’re known for, and I will always be open and honest with you about my feelings on any issue that comes up.”

Martin, 45, ascended to the role of interim fire chief in late June, following the retirement of Mike Deprez, who was an interim chief. Deprez was tapped to take over in a temporary capacity less than a year prior, following the retirement of his predecessor, Steve Kovalcik, in August 2011.

Though City Manager Mark Vanderpool initially indicated that administration planned to conduct a search for a new permanent chief when Deprez took the spot, the decision took a back burner as the city grappled with financial issues and labor negotiations.

Vanderpool said the latest recruitment process spanned about four months and included an assessment center to evaluate candidates, per the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreement. The committee conducting the center declared Martin the top choice.

“I might add that the assessors were unbiased, and his mother, who’s present tonight, was not one of the assessors that served on the committee,” joked Vanderpool.

Martin has worked for the Sterling Heights Fire Department full-time since 1989, working his way through the ranks of firefighter, lieutenant, captain and battalion chief, before landing his current job.

Prior to joining the SHFD, Martin worked for about three years as a firefighter for the Detroit Fire Department. His father and grandfather both also worked for the city of Detroit, and it was there that Martin developed fond childhood memories of visiting his dad at the firehouse and riding on the engines.

Martin has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Northwood University and an associate degree in fire science from Macomb Community College. He is on track to earn his master’s degree in public administration from Central Michigan University this winter. 

A state-licensed paramedic, certified rescue specialist and certified hazardous materials technician, Martin has served as team leader for the Macomb County Technical Rescue Team since 2007 and rescue team manager for Michigan Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 since 2007.

Vanderpool said Martin’s professional development has qualified him to be a lecturer and instructor in specialized fire service areas, and he’s represented the city in various regional leadership roles, including as chairman of the Southeast Michigan Urban Area Securities Initiative.

Past accolades include Firefighter of the Year for Sterling Heights in 2005 and 2010, and for Macomb County in 2009.

Vanderpool praised Martin for his skill in dealing with difficult labor management issues, for implementing a reduction of staff on fire apparatuses without degradation of service quality, and for resurrecting the annual Fire Department open house via sponsorships and donations.

“I have no doubt that Chris will be a great addition to the city’s leadership team,” he said.

Martin and his wife of 22 years, Kellie, live in Sterling Heights with their 13-year-old son and black Labrador, and Councilman Joseph Romano praised the über-local aspect of the appointment.

“Our fire chief lives in the city of Sterling Heights, his parents live in the city of Sterling Heights, his two brother-in-laws live in the city of Sterling Heights and his uncles live in the city of Sterling Heights, so he knows he has to do a good job,” said Romano.

Moving forward, Martin said he anticipates funding issues will be the major challenge, as the firefighters finalize a new contract and city administrators discuss the possibilities of a public-safety millage.