Kellie Rynn Academy founder honors firefighters who tried to save her daughter


GREENVILLE, S.C. (FOX Carolina) – The CDC estimates 3,500 babies die in sleep-related deaths each year. That’s why one Greenville mom over the last eight years has turned her tragedy into her mission. And on Wednesday, she paid a heartfelt visit to the first responders who first offered her help eight years ago.

Our interview was cut short before it began inside Wade Hampton Fire Department station three. The station had 18 calls alone on one shift.

“It’s passion, a lifestyle – it’s what we love to do,” said Lt. Pierce Burton. “Motor vehicle accidents, structures fires, water problems, medical emergencies and many more.”

Like the call made February 21, 2014.

“They dispatched us for a pediatric cardiac arrest,” he said.

Then rookie fireman Burton, Lt. Mike Reese and driver Jason Winchester were responding to a situation involving three-month-old Kellie Rynn Martin.

“When we got there, we found the child unresponsive and we did administer CPR,” Burton said.

Kathryn Martin had dropped her daughter off that morning at an in-home child care center and never saw her alive again.

“It was a blur of emotion,” Martin said. “I couldn’t grasp it, and it took them 30 minutes in the emergency room to tell us that she was gone.”

The coroner found Kellie Rynn in a bassinet with blankets and stuffed animals surrounding her.

“It’s one of the worst calls that you can have,” said Battalion Chief Mike Reese.

And in 2015, the operator of the in-home daycare where Kellie Rynn died, pleaded guilty to several charges including child neglect by a legal custodian. Investigators say the operator was caring for 23 children in the home that was only licensed for six.

“This is a problem with in-home centers – they’re not all bad,” said Martin. “There are some fantastic home centers, but there are some warning signs at 25-years-old (that) I didn’t see.”

And that’s why Martin started the nonprofit, Kellie Rynn Academy, just three weeks after her daughter’s passing.

“We educate and train in-home childcare center operators to be licensed – which is above the state standard and to have Safe Sleep Training and to have CPR training,” said Martin. “And then we also provide cribettes and sleep sacks to families that don’t have a safe space for their child to sleep.”

Additionally, in 2023, Martin hopes to see Kellie Rynn’s Law introduced, which would charge owners of childcare centers with “felony child neglect” if there’s a fatality or injury.

“It’s always been ongoing,” Martin said.

But Martin says the timing had to be right, just like the reason she and her family decided to visit the three men who tried to save her daughter’s life.

“We want to make a difference because these firemen that were there that day, were the first people who actually took care of Kellie Rynn,” Martin said. “If we can honor the people that sacrifice every single day whether we see it or not – it’s worth it.”

“It brought back the memories of that call and wondering what (they) would be like today,” Reese said.

Today, the Martin family is bigger, just like the fire inside them.

“(They’re) prospering and moving forward with laws and other things that have changed due to that incident – it’s rewarding,” Reese said.

“If I can save one child by doing all these different things, I will do it because no parent should have to do what we have to do,” Martin said.

To learn more about Kellie Rynn Academy visit, here:

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