Roger Martin has been called a Renaissance man. He’s been a filmmaker, boat captain, musician, architect, carpenter, and plumber. And for more than 20 years, he’s been captain of Pumper Number 5 in Provincetown’s East End. Like other volunteer firefighters here, he’s ready at a moment’s notice to drop whatever he’s doing and answer an alarm. At 84, he’s not ready to stop. Here’s Roger in his words.
Provincetown up until this year has been the only all-volunteer department on the Cape. It’s been very much to Provincetown’s advantage, because at any time we have so many trained people showing up at an incident quickly.
Almost immediately after I moved to Provincetown, I joined the volunteer fire dept. That was in 1982, and I’ve been happy about it ever since.
There was an old house that I had spotted which had been foreclosed and was being auctioned. So, I put together $5,000 to be a bidder. My next-door neighbor gave the $65,000 bid, and I said, “Oh, what the hell,” and stuck my neck out and said $65,500. Going, going, gone!
The house on Cook Street is about two blocks from Pumper Number 5, Engine Company 5 on Commercial Street. I thought the idea of a volunteer fire dept., if I was going to live here, that would really be an exciting and wonderful thing to do.
So, by September I had become a member of this firehouse. That was sublime. We had a full house of lots of members. There were probably a little bit more than a dozen, maybe as many as 16. I don’t remember.
I came in originally as an auxiliary until I’d got the training, then I became a regular. I’ve been the captain now for a long time. This is my 41st year in the department.
I don’t find it stressful being on call. I have a scanner in the house. There’s a quite loud tone that comes out, an alert, DA EEEE eee beep, beep, beep — something like that. I could quickly jump on a bike and ride downhill to the fire dept. and be as often as not the first responder to take the truck out.
Things are different now, but in those days there was almost once a week an alarm that went out, and there were always at least 30 members of the department that would show up at any call. All volunteers. There was nobody paid except for the chief.
The high wind situations that we have sometimes today and all these wooden houses bundled together, that’s the major problem. That’s the fire danger here.
When there’s a real fire and a fire scene, you can’t help the adrenaline rush. It’s very exhausting. The turnout gear is heavy. Breathing through a breathing apparatus is stressful. A lot of people don’t really do it right and use air very quickly.
I was involved in the  fire at Maushope, the housing on Harry Kemp Way. There are elderly people that live there, and there was a kind of bad fire there. The department attacked it from the front of the building, but it turned out that on the third floor there were several women trapped in rooms. I was the captain at that time, and so I ordered my company, my lieutenant, and the people to get a ladder off the truck, and we went around to the back of the building and pulled the ladder up three floors and rescued two women.
The future for the department now is very uncertain. Provincetown is no longer all volunteer, mainly because of the demands on a rescue squad. You can’t believe the number of times rescue has to respond to an incident — every day, hour after hour, bicycle accidents, people breaking their leg climbing over the breakwater. It just goes on forever, and that’s where the necessity for paid people has come in.
I’m 84 now. I’ll turn 85 the end of November. Luckily for me, I am in good health, and my mind seems to work okay. I’m very fit [laugh] actually. I assume if all regulations get followed, all the standards of traditional paid fire departments, I will have to retire. I don’t want to give it up! I love being part of this organization.
The biggest restrictions I have are that the chief doesn’t want me to go into the burning buildings. That’s the exciting part! Nor does he want me to drive the truck. If anything happened while I was driving the truck, it reflects badly on him, and I think he’s a godsend to this town.
I’m a captain, so I still have a command position, and I’m extremely good at running the pump on the truck. It’s a relatively complex thing, and it’s important the amount of pressure that you put through a hose so that the nozzles work properly, and also you just don’t bowl somebody over with so much pressure they can’t hold it.
I would call the fire dept. a family. Yes. My family! We’re trained with certain skills, and we enter dangerous situations together. And they are dangerous. You put your life at risk and your buddy. Well, there is that bonding for sure. You can’t be a slouch. You can’t be lazy and fat and soft to do this job.
We’re really treading in unknown waters right now. The town is talking about having an administrator of some sort who would be given twice the salary that [Chief] Mike Trovato gets to oversee the fire dept. But he’d only be working eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. He’s not going to respond to a fire in the middle of the night like Mike does.
When I think about the future and the fact that I would no longer be part of an organization like this, I guess what I would miss the most are the drills, working with the equipment, squirting water out of these amazing hoses and nozzles and being part of the community of firefighters and rescue people. When I look at my whole life, certainly firefighting is one of the highest points. And I’ll never regret one second of it.