Rowell uses medical skills to support firefighters

Published 1:53 am Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Red Level native Wilson Rowell is the man taking care of the people fighting the fires in the west.

Rowell is a paramedic for Advanced EMT in Covington County and also works for Haynes Ambulance in Coffee County. 

Within the last year he has taken up the task of being a paramedic for the U.S. Forest Service and has been sent to take care of the firefighters trying to put out fires in the west.

“The firefighters have the hard job,” Rowell said. “My job is to take care of them if they get hurt.”

Rowell has been working as a paramedic for 23 years, but never thought that his medical career would bring him to where he is now.

“I have really enjoyed this work,” Rowell said. “It is something different. The only thing I have dealt with in life is in the medical field.”

Rowell was introduced to being a wildfire medic after covering a pack test, a U.S. Forest Service physical test for wild land firefighters.

“I was talking to one of the guys taking the test and he said that they really needed paramedics out on the fire line,” Rowell said. “So I asked him what all I needed to do to become one. He said that I had to take several different classes, I had to actually take the pack test and I had to get into an interagency dispatch center. So back when I started my career, this wasn’t even on my radar.”

Rowell just finished his first fire season as a wild fire paramedic. He covered three different fires and traveled as far as Oregon.

“I covered the 34 complex fire in Oklahoma City, the Terwilliger Fire and the Kelly Mountain fire,” Rowell said. “I do like the traveling. I get to meet people and see things I never thought I would see. I mean I hate to see thousands of acres burning, but I am glad I get to help people while I am there.”

Out of the 60 days that Rowell was away helping with fires, he only had to treat four people.

“There are several other things that you have to worry about other than the fire itself,” Rowell said. “Like dehydration, just the shear heat of the fire, falling hazards, burnt trees falling. There are several things you need to watch out for including simple stuff all the way to severe things. I am just glad that I didn’t have to treat more than four people when I was there.”

Rowell said that his job is seasonal, but he never knows when a fire will strike.

“It is a seasonal job, because you never know when a fire will break out,” Rowell said. “It’s so sporadic because like in Oregon, a dry lightning storm can hit the ground and start a fire and it will spread. It’s not like, ‘Oh let’s all get ready for March because it is fire month,’ you just never know when a fire will start.”

Rowell said that the best part of his job is helping people.

“Being able to help somebody if needed is the best part,” Rowell said. “That’s what got me into this profession. I didn’t get into this profession to make money; I just like helping people. This is something I have always done.”

Rowell graduated from Red Level High School in 1995, and immediately began his training at LBW Community College to become a paramedic.

Rowell said that there is something that a lot of people do not understand about fires, the work that is done after.

“The fire service of course wants to put out the fire,” Rowell said. “But what I didn’t realize and what most people don’t realize is that there is a big line where a bulldozer dug a line to stop the fire, and when you leave, they want to make it look like nothing was ever done. So we are the last people to leave because we have to make sure that no one gets hurt while they are doing all of the work after the fire.”

Rowell said that being away working is relaxing to him.

“It is not as stressful out there as it is here,” Rowell said. “Of course when I do get a call it is very stressful work, don’t get me wrong, but being out there is very relaxing. I have met a lot of good people and made some really great friends. I will definitely go out there again. I enjoy it.”