A fond farewell to lollipop man after a half century of public service
AN end of an era beckons this week when Dungannon man Harry Martin retires after more than a half century of public service to the people of Dungannon and Northern Ireland.
For the last 10 years Harry has been stopping traffic and ushering school children cross the busy Ranfurly Road in rain, hail and snow.
However, health reasons have forced the 69-year-old to hang up his lollipop stick for the last time.
Previous to his career in his familiar yellow jacket, Harry achieved praise and recognition for his distinguished service as a fire fighter in the Northern Ireland Fire Service.
A former district fire officer for South and East Tyrone, Fermanagh and South Armagh, Mr Martin was a firefighter for 33 years before retiring in 1994.
He began his working life as a fireman in Derry, before moving to Belfast where he witnessed the worst of the Troubles.
“I began as a part-time fireman in 1959 starting at a time of peace and ending in wartime”, he said.
“I was eager to become full-time and after working for a few years as a draper, I seized the opportunity when a post became available in Derry, even though it meant thumbing home in the evenings to Belfast because I couldn’t afford the train fare.
“Once fire gets into your blood there is no cure.
“In those days you weren’t considered a real firefighter unless you were spitting blood and soot.
“A macho culture prevailed, and you were considered a cissy if you went in with a mask or an oxygen tank.
“You had to be a fire-eater and go in ready to tackle the worst blazes. Then it became regulation to wear the oxygen tanks in the 1970s and everything changed.
“Firemen of my generation were known as smoke-eaters. When I was at hospital recently, a nurse asked me was I a chain-smoker. I told her that I never smoked a single cigarette. ‘Then why are your lungs full of tar?’ she asked me.
“Unfortunately, that is the damage we did to ourselves. A lot of my colleagues have died of lung cancer and other lung-related diseases. The attitude from the fire chiefs in those days was ‘get into that fire and get a roasting!’.”
Among the many amusing episodes he experienced as a fireman, one stands out in his memory.
“We were attending a house-fire in the Bogside in the late 60s, and rescued a mother and her three grown-up daughters.
“At the scene of the blaze, the fire chief told the married men to get back into the truck, and lined the bachelors against a wall.
“Then he invited the three daughters to walk up and down the line and choose a man to marry. “I was only 18 and my legs were trembling, I was afraid that if one of the daughters picked me I would never be able to get away. In those days firemen earned a very good salary of £3,700 a year, and were considered a great catch.”
After retiring Harry devoted himself to the National Association of Retired Firefighters (NARF) so much so that the organisation presented him with a special medallion for his services in 2003.
Latterly he has immersed himself in work for NARF, of which he had been a UK Vice-President and the Northern Ireland Secretaty for 15 years.
Speaking of his retirement as a lollipop man, Harry said he was honoured to have ensured the safety of hundreds of school children. His personality will be sorely missed next week when the schools return.
So respected is he, that pupils at the Royal School have nominated him for a special Citizen’s Award.
“Human life is very precious”, said Harry. “People of my generation should make the effort to speak to young people, so that we can pass on our wisdom, and in turn be educated by them. We are all learning until the day we die.
“I treat children as grown-ups, and I worry about what problems they might be facing at school or at home.
“I try to give them a wee laugh by wearing odd shoes or a very colourful tie.
“Parents of pupils at the school told me I was a breath of fresh air, and had lifted the morale of everyone.”
Inspite of health problems, Harry still intends to help out on a voluntary basis.
“I’m still a fire brigade man. If they called me now and told me to go to a fire, I’d be the first there.
“Fire is in my blood. I still carry my kit and my fire helmet in the back of my car just in case I come across an accident.”
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Weather for Dungannon
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 8 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: North