by Jim Boyle
Ben Martin considered not attending a recent awards ceremony to honor courageous individuals involved in efforts to save the lives of others.
Awards were presented Oct. 4 to civilians for lifesaving acts, heroism in attempting to save a life and for community work. Award-winners at the Tribute to Extraordinary Citizens included two children who were recognized for rescuing a child who nearly drowned in Crystal. They also included some who were unsuccessful in their attempts despite valiant efforts.
That was the case for Martin.
It would have easier to attend had Martin’s efforts saved the life of Kyle Adams, a 19-year-old man who died from smoke inhalation in a Hassan Township house fire that Martin, his pregnant wife and family happened on this past spring. Plus, Martin doesn’t consider anything he did as courageous.
“You don’t plan on being in situations, but when they come up you just do what you have to do,” he told the Star News in a recent interview.
The last thing Martin wanted was attention drawn to himself for something he did that he has played out in his head 1,000 times — each time wishing for a different outcome. The question of “what if?” has haunted him.
But when his father, a trusted source of advice, encouraged him to attend, the 25-year-old Hanover man did. It was awkward, he admits.
But the ceremony, hosted by Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and his department, has brought him closer to God. What burns inside him now is a desire to set aside his fears and share the gospel with others.
“I had been a little lazy,” he wrote after the fire.
Martin, who grew up one of 10 children, says his biggest fear is when people find themselves perishing in a fire or some other calamity, they may not be ready.
His actions have meant the world to Adams’ family.
“My family is so blessed and overwhelmed that he even tried to help,” said Marcia Chrisinger, Kyle’s aunt, who told the Star News she has since written to Ben. “His family is forever included in our family.”
The ride home
The Martins were on their way home May 21 from Cabela’s and Lowe’s in Rogers when they came upon the Hassan Township house fire.
The trip had been less about shopping and more about chances to walk in wide open spaces, and — if possible — induce labor.
Jessica, 27, was more than 8.5 months pregnant with the couple’s fourth child, and the old wives’ tale had been tried unsuccessfully with each pregnancy. “It was worth a try,” she said.
After clearing Interstate 94 while traveling along County Road 144, the couple noticed the smoke.
The horizon ahead, however, appeared dreary, perhaps foggy. The haze had not initially registered as smoke — until they got closer. The closer they got, the more it began to dawn on them that it was.
Suddenly it became apparent it was smoke emanating from a house. Ben pulled in the driveway of the single-family home.
“You jumped out and told me: ‘Call 911,” Jessica recalled as Ben somberly nodded in agreement on the other side of the sofa in the family’s Hanover home.
The events that unfolded from there are in one sense a blur laced with the sharp reminder of what they heard, saw and felt — physically and emotionally.
Ben ran to the side of the house, where he could see smoke and hear a lady screaming: “My sonnnnn! Kyle! My sonnnnn! Help!”
The pain in this bloodstained woman’s voice summoned Ben to a bedroom window. Her soot-covered body did nothing to him. It was the pain in her voice that throttled him into action.
Martin used a shovel and broke the bedroom window; he used a wheelbarrow and climbed on top of it in an effort to save the young man trapped inside.
The woman’s screams became his screams.
“Kyle! Answer me! Kyle!”
Thoughts of the book of James crowded his thoughts as he sifted for the joy in this trial. He had covered Bible passages from this book of the Bible with students days before at Buffalo Community Assembly of God.
It was James 1, verses 2–4 that tested him now like a hammer. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Where is the joy in this, oh Lord? he asked in his mind.
Thick black smoke turned to flames. Thoughts of a flashlight and ladder helping were dashed. More screams.
Back in the car, Jessica could now see flames in the crescent-shaped window in the front door.
That’s when she called their church and asked the people there to pray for this family and a boy named Kyle.
That boy turned out to be Adams, a 19-year-old man and the son of Pamela Adams, who was whisked away in an ambulance to address lacerations and burns she had suffered.
The Martins would not see her again until the funeral. There, they would meet her again along with Kyle’s father and his older brother.
Ben expressed his sadness and his wish that he could have done more. She offered her thanks and appreciation for what he did do, and they hugged.
“She said I was amazing for trying,” Ben said.
“It feels like he saved Kyle, in a way,” she said.
By attending the funeral and later the awards program, family members commented on how it helped to be able to put a face with this man who tried to save Kyle. Hearing what happened helped bring understanding to a terrible tragedy.
The tragedy has tested Ben’s faith, which has withstood the test thanks to his strong faith in God.
“It’s through these trials that we get our strength,” he said. “It’s not about putting your trust in yourself but putting it completely in God’s hands.”
The events of the day weighed most heavily on Ben’s mind as he and his family made their way home that fateful night.
Jessica kept their three children — Elijah, Hezekiah and Jebadiah — as quiet as possible while answering the painful questions.
Ben’s mind was racing but he couldn’t put his thoughts into words until he got home and began to punch them into a computer. Not normally one to write, this machinist by trade poured his thoughts into the keyboard.
That letter has been shared with Kyle’s family. In it Ben addressed the screams he heard that night. He asked “what-if” over and over as he wrote. He came to rest on the idea that what if nothing can be done.
He then asked the question, “Are you ready to go before God?”
He wrote this in response: “I’m not here to start any big argument, just to share with you what I am going through. And I want you to know that I care what happens to you!”
With all due respect, such conclusions have been more rewarding than the plaque that was awarded to him by Hennepin County. So was Chrisinger’s letter to him.
What he is most proud of in life are his wife and four children, including their youngest, Melchizedek James Martin, who was born on the same day that Pam Adams was released from the hospital.