EMT at SVH Answers the Call
"The mountains are calling and I must go"—John Muir
Naturalist John Muir wrote these words in a letter to his sister in 1873 when describing his desire to escape to Yosemite and protect it. Rebecca Huettner has answered a similar call to go the forest to protect it from wildfires as part of a ten-person wildland fire suppression team with the Maine Forest Service. It's a break from the everyday work she does as an advanced EMT with Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield.
"I feel like there are always memorable experiences, whether it's observing fire behavior that I haven't seen before, or the antics that crop up between a group of people working so closely together for an extended period of time," says Rebecca.
Recently, she went to Larimer County, Colorado, to the Cameron Peak fire. On one of her first days in Colorado, she was digging handlines around a mining site. She explains that handline is digging with tools down to mineral soil to create a fire break to stop the fire's spread. It can be grueling work Rebecca recalls, "All ten of us were digging, sweat dripping. Suddenly, one of the crew members laughed and said, "Join wildfire, they said. It'll be fun, they said.” This totally broke the tension, and it reminds me how 'hero' jobs aren't always glory and honor. It's the dirty, sweaty tasks that push you physically and mentally. And when you hit that wall where you don't think you can go any further, sometimes you have to laugh and keep going because that's where you get stronger."
Rebecca gained her love for the outdoors from her father, who has been a Maine Forest Ranger for nearly 24 years. She officially started in wildland firefighting when she was 14, took the wildland firefighting class when she was 15, and took her first out of state trip to battle a wildland fire when she was 18. She went to Montana in 2018 and twice to Quebec, Canada, in 2019. She's also been on numerous in-state wildfires, including one this fall near Chesuncook Lake, Maine. Chuck McMahan, a paramedic for Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital and crew chief who works with Rebecca, is amazed by what she has learned. "We believe that the experience in multi-agency response and large-scale incidents that Rebecca brings home is invaluable to the communities she serves. We expect that the experience will only add to her high level of professionalism and dedication to excellence."
On her recent trip to Colorado, she learned how to program radios in the field and perform weather observations and monitoring for the division. "I feel like I always walk away from a wildland fire trip with better communication skills, whether it's by radio, phone, written, or verbal, as well as a better understanding of management and the incident command system," Rebecca explains why she continues to answer the call to be a wildland firefighter. "The opportunity to work in a high-stress environment has helped me develop leadership skills by taking the initiative to get things done and to work together with the group through the hardships that come up."
1-Rebecca Huettner, an advanced EMT with Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital
2-As a member of the Maine Forest Service Wildland Fire Suppression Team, Rebecca walks down a dozer line that the crew had worked on as a fire barrier at the Cameron Peak fire in Larimer County, Colorado; photo by Dorothy McCarron.