Former NFL player becomes Seminole County firefighter after tragic loss

Chris Martin played for UCF, NFL before becoming firefighter after his 2-year-old son drowned

A former New England Patriot and University of Central Florida football player is the newest member of the Seminole County Fire Department.

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – A former New England Patriot and University of Central Florida football player is the newest member of the Seminole County Fire Department.

Chris Martin left behind his life as an NFL star after an awful personal tragedy and decided to become a firefighter to teach others how to avoid that tragedy.

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Martin’s 2-year-old son Gunner was precious, adorable and everything a dad could have ever wanted in a little boy.

The footballer was inspired to become a firefighter after his son Gunner tragically drowned at the age of 2. (Chris Martin)

“On April 6, 2016, my wife and I found our son unfortunately at the bottom of a pool,” Martin said. “We had a pool in the backyard. We weren’t really aware of the different preventative measures we could take to prevent it.”

[INSIDER EXTRA: Hear more of Chris Martin’s story of how he became a firefighter]

The Florida native was playing football at the time, first at UCF and then in the NFL.

“That’s when I realized that’s what I want to do when I’m done,” Martin said.

The Florida native played football for UCF, and later, the New England Patriots. (Chris Martin)

He had close friends at the Seminole County Fire Department and knew that’s where he could make a difference.

“If nobody’s kid ever drowns in Florida, especially Seminole County, that would be good,” Martin said. “If we could live in that perfect world, it would be great. But unfortunately the odds are against Floridians just because it’s Florida.”

Martin said the worst call for any first responder is one that relays a child is hurt.

Last year, 93 children drowned across the state, according to the Seminole County Fire Department. This number includes five in Seminole, six in Osceola, eight in Brevard and five in Orange counties.

Chris Martin with his son Gunner. (Chris Martin)

“I’ve had a lot of pushback from some family members saying I shouldn’t go to these calls, and I’m sure my lieutenant wouldn’t make me, but it’s actually something I would like to do,” Martin said. “If I was able to go to a young child drowning and be there and try to help revive and hopefully bring him back, I would love for that opportunity. Why? Because I’ve been there.”

Through the fire department and a foundation for his son Gunner started by his wife—The Gunner Martin Foundation – Water Safety and Drowning Prevention—Martin teaches other parents with pools how to make them safer, and most importantly, why.

“So, if my wife knew what we do now, it would have been different,” Martin said. “And that’s one of the big things I want people to understand. There are several preventative measures that can be put in place to help this. Obviously kids wander, a lot of kids are attracted to the water—my son was attracted to the water. There’s things that can be put in place like having door alarms, like if there’s a pool party, having someone watching the pool, having a pool fence. There’s just so many different levels.”

What would Martin tell every single parent in Central Florida with a little one and a pool?

“I would say as a parent, you should know CPR,” Martin said. “You should at least know the basic CPR measures. And if you have access to swim lessons of some sort.”

Chris Martin and his wife with their son Gunner. (Chris Martin)

Swim lessons are available for infants as well. ISR, or infant swimming resource, is where babies learn how to tread water.

Martin’s foundation pays for those local swim lessons.

Martin’s wife has also been looking to strengthen pool safety laws. She’s discovered older pools are typically grandfathered in and don’t necessarily fall under the same stricter code requirements as newer pools, which can leave them more vulnerable. She’s trying to get that loophole closed.

You can read more water safety tips offered by the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County below.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.