News and Media
October 17, 2017The Oakland PressPontiac firefighter reunites families in Puerto Rico, how to help those affected
Not more than four days after Hurricane Maria hit his hometown of Aguirre, Puerto Rico, Hector Martinez was on a plane to the island.
The Waterford regional firefighter of 14-years spent a week in Puerto Rico, reuniting families over the internet, delivering much needed supplies to those without food, water or electricity and putting his skills as president of a tree trimming company, Trees & Co., to use in freeing those trapped in their homes by fallen trees.
After witnessing the devastation first-hand, Martinez and his close friend, Sean Blackman, a well-known metro Detroit musician, decided to take action in the form of collecting funds and goods to be delivered by hand to Puerto Rico on a military cargo plane.
When he landed in Puerto Rico, Martinez was greeted by an old pastor, sent to bring him to his hometown by his mother. No one knew when he would be arriving, sending different friends and family to check the airport every day, only that Martinez would be there as soon as he could.
He said about 80 percent of his hometown was completely leveled.
“There was confusion, there’s no water, no power, no food, no money, we can’t use the ATM machines … you see everyone washing their clothes in the river, it’s a weird thing to see in 2017,” Martinez said.
Everywhere Martinez went, he took photos of anyone he would pass, whether he knew them or not. No electricity meant no access to phones, or the internet, leaving those stateside with no idea of if their family members and friends had survived the hurricane.
When he would make it back to San Juan, which did have power, he would upload the photos to Facebook, asking those with Puerto Rican connections to check through the album to find their family and friends.
“This retired army general gets a hold of me and says that my neighborhood, that’s where his mom lives. He says ‘Can you find her?’ and I say ‘Yes.’ It’s dark when I finally find her, it was dark around 6 p.m. over there … and she starts crying and saying she knew someone would find her, so I took a photo and sent it to him, ‘Look, here’s your mom,’”
Martinez said he reunited about 25 families that way.
Marshall law was imposed on the island by the time Martinez arrived.
“Since I have a badge, I would go out at night and get gas from the gas station for people. During the day, you would have an eight-hour wait for $20 worth of gas. You can fill your can and then you’d have to go,”
“On our way out of the mountains one day, we’ve got a chainsaw and gas in truck, and we see this man with a 14-inch machete working on a giant tree. He could be there for six months and still not be able to cut that tree … He told me that he hadn’t been able to leave his house for a week because it was blocking his car, so we got a chainsaw and cut a spot for him to drive out. It just needed to be done.”
Martinez said he worked to deliver cases of water wherever he could, as well as food, because most of the food being distributed by government agencies was in a snack-pack form.
On one occasion, he went to visit an elderly couple to check-in on their wellbeing. They weren’t on their property, but Martinez left a case of water anyway.
“When I got back (to Pontiac), I went to church, and this lady comes up to me and says with her eyes watering, that her parents left that day to find water, and hours later they had found none, but when they got home, somebody had left a case of water. She said, ‘You don’t know what you did for them,’ and that’s crazy, how did that happen?”
Martinez said not being able to be down in Puerto Rico helping with the recovery has left him feeling stranded.
“I wish I was there with the skills and what I’ve learned so far, but I also see it as maybe, that’s why I’m here and not there. I can gather resources and skills and bring it back there. I have the ability to bring people together and that’s why I’m here,”
HOW TO HELP
From now until Thursday, Oct. 26, all Oakland County fire departments will be collecting goods for Martinez and Blackman to take to the island in early November via cargo plane.
The most needed items include:
• Nonperishable food
• New chainsaws
• New generators
• New tarps
• Cases of water
• Toiletries and hygiene products
A fundraiser concert will also be held to raise money for the people of Puerto Rico. Any funds raised will be given directly to residents there, Martinez said.
The In Transit Detroit Relief and Recovery Efforts for Puerto Rico fundraiser concert , featuring local musicians playing authentic Puerto Rican music, takes place at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 26 at The Garden Theater in Detroit. Tickets are $30, or $60 for VIP seating.
A GoFundMe page has also been created for those who wish to donate to the relief effort.