Merry Watson hangs up her fire hat

MERRY WATSON HANGS UP FIREFIGHTING HAT — As one of the founding members of the Naples’ rescue unit in 1975, Watson passed firefighting school five years ago and retired in February 2013. (De Busk Photo)

As one of the founding members of the Naples’ rescue unit in 1975, Watson passed firefighting school five years ago and retired in February 2013. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — For Merry Watson, the choice to step down after five years as a Naples firefighter and 37 years as an emergency technician had to do with timing.

Timing also played a factor in 1975 when Watson and a handful of residents founded an informal volunteer rescue group in Naples. Actually, in the late 1970s, there were a couple catalysts that started in motion the wheels that would result in the early years of the Naples Rescue Department.

It kind of evolved, according to Watson.

She and her husband, Dana, had a young son named Cole. Watson worried about being able to deal independently with some of the injuries associated with childhood. Her answer was to learn CPR; and, as a concerned mother, she took a course on it.

Then, along with a group of people in town, Watson also took a class on crash injury management, which was offered by the Maine Department of Transportation, she said.

At that time, the group included Delvin Merrill, Skip and Donna Linnell, and Loren Hall. With their newly honed skills, those folks decided to go out and help people when needed. At first, the rescue workers notified one another of an emergency situation via phone.

Then, the equipment included three walkie-talkies, and a boxy Oldsmobile that served as an ambulance.

“Every morning at 6 a.m., there were a lot of people running around dropping off the radios” to the people on duty, she said.

“In 1977, we had a hell of a motorcycle crash right on the (Naples) Bridge. We were all volunteers. We all drove our own cars. We waited for 45 minutes for the ambulance to come down from Bridgton,” Watson said. “It took 45 minutes, but it seemed like three hours. That’s when we all decided we would form the rescue unit.”

At that time, Fire Chief Clinton Plummer was open to the idea of a Naples Rescue Department separate from the town’s fire department, which has been established since 1938.

Being a first responder is one of the meaningful ways Watson has been able to serve her community.

Being a first responder requires the ability to care for and comfort injured people, and to deal with the deaths that do occur from unexpected injuries.

“There were some nasty wrecks; and some of those things you never forget. You keep those memories with you always. Everyone does,” she said. “For me, I compartmentalize them. They are there; and the rest of my life is here.”

Her family members have acted as her confidants when she felt the need to talk about what she had witnessed.

“I have been up at night many times, talking about it to my family. The more you talk about it, the more you come to terms with it,” Watson said.

She showed up on the scene after the Orion, a plane out of Brunswick, crashed in Poland in 1978.

She said panic doesn’t sneak in, because first aid knowledge acts as a safety net.

“You revert to your training. Training is important in those situations, you revert to what you have learned,” she said.

Plus, she worked with “a group of really good people,” she said.

In those early days, the rescue department purchased a Horton emergency vehicle, which was a modern style ambulance, Watson said.

“You could stand up and put your back toward the ceiling, and take care of the patient,” she said.

Sometimes, Fire Chief Clinton Plummer helped the rescue department with driving duties, she said.

However, one of the drawbacks of the Horton was that “the brakes would catch fire once and a while,” she said.

In addition to newer rescue rigs, the department continued to evolve. About a decade ago, some department members began to receive per diems.

When she turned 62 years old, Watson was talked into attending firefighter school by current Deputy Chief Chris Burnham.

“Chris encouraged me to do it. I should say, ‘He strongly encouraged me.’ He wanted to use me as an example to get other people to take the class. I can see him saying, ‘If a 62-year-old woman can do it, you can too,’” she said.

The four-month long course could be summed up as “very physical,” according to Watson.

“You had to get dressed in 2½ minutes. You had to be totally dressed with your breathing (apparatus) on. It took me until the end of the class to do it in 2½ minutes,” she said.

Watson found the humor in an activity or drill that required a woman to get dressed quickly.

“That was the hardest part of the whole class. As far as the rest of the class — it wasn’t beyond me. But, it wasn’t quite easy,” she said.

Although retired, Watson plans to continue to work as a rescue technician during the Fryeburg Fair. A good friend is in charge of the first aid booth; and they work 16-hour days during the fair’s duration.

The first aid booth provides a good service for people attending the fair. Frequently, Watson gives golf cart rides to elderly attendees who walk so many miles on the fairgrounds that the trip from the exit gates to their vehicle becomes a difficult journey.

Also, Watson will continue serving as the Naples Historical Society and Museum president.

Now, she takes pride in that segment of Naples history when a small group of dedicated residents put a rescue unit on the road.

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