STELLA, Mo. — It’s prime wildfire season in the western United States, which requires firefighters and paramedics from all fifty states to help extinguish.
Here in Missouri, there’s one man living locally who answers the call for help out west: Levi Clymer from Stella.
Most of the year, Levi Clymer works as a firefighter for the Rogers Fire Department in Rogers, Arkansas.
But when the summer months roll around, Clymer spends several of the year’s hottest weeks with the “Northern Rockies Incident Management Team,” serving as a paramedic.
“That’s our goal is to keep everybody on the fire lines healthy, and keep them working,” said Clymer.
Fire season in the western United States got off to an early start this year.
Clymer has already spent a couple of weeks in New Mexico, and just recently returned from Alaska where he was deployed for a month.
Clymer, who will soon turn 40, is now in his 16th season as a wildfire paramedic.
“I enjoy the excitement of it. It’s something that’s related to the field that I’m in, but it’s another offshoot of it that’s completely different. So you know, even as a firefighter paramedic at Rogers, I enjoy my job, but sometimes it gets… I don’t want to necessarily say monotonous, but you know, it’s kind of the same thing, in and out. But this is something that’s completely different. That kind of keeps my interest, you know, focusing on something new every summer.”
When he does head out west during the summer months, Clymer leaves behind several at home in Stella.
“My wife is an amazing person. But, we’ve been doing this for several years. Whenever we started, we only had two children in the house. They were young, and it would be a short time that I’d be gone, maybe three weeks at most or maybe four if it was real busy summer. As time has progressed and our family has grown, now my wife is staying at home with six of our kids that are still school age. I’ve got an older son that comes home during the summer from college, but she’s here with all of our kids, so it gets a little bit harder every year, but everyone’s kind of accustomed to it. It’s kind of the norm. They know that during the summer we try and get some fun stuff in before fire season really hits and then they know that Dad’s usually gone July and August and then he comes home shortly after school starts.”
Clymer says each fire season seems to outdo the last, but his most memorable year is 2020, not long after the COVID pandemic began.
“It seems like they’re gradually getting a little bit worse (wildfire season), you know, with population moving into more forested areas and stuff. I would have to say 2020 was pretty, pretty rough. And of course, we had the complexities of COVID and the uncertainties of COVID running around, along with fighting fire because we’re sometimes in a small community of, you know, anywhere from 200 to 2000 people easily. So being on the medical side that year was extra difficult for us, because then we’re trying to mitigate the COVID and keep guys healthy and then still focus on the main task at hand.”
Despite that task becoming more difficult with each passing summer, Clymer says he feels rewarded by serving those who put their lives on the line, and that’s what keeps him coming back each fire season.
“I would say a lot of it is the challenge and complexity of it. I work with one of the largest teams in the nation that coordinates containment and suppression in our natural areas so there’s a lot of complexity to it and a lot of challenge with it and I enjoy that challenge,” says Levi Clymer.
During the summer months, Northern Rockies Incident Management Team primarily works wildland fires in the northwestern United States, for a minimum of two weeks at a time.