Dedham/Lucerne Fire Department takes on full-time firefighter

As Dedham/Lucerne’s first full-time firefighter, Orrington native Kaitlyn Spencer will respond to calls and lead student interns from the fire science program at Eastern Maine Community College.

DEDHAM — There’s a new full-time firefighter in the town of Dedham, and she’s a little younger than you might expect.

“A lot of people actually ask me on the scene, ‘Hey, how old are you? How are you able to do this?’” said Kaitlyn Spencer, a 5-foot-tall 20-year-old who had her first day at work in Dedham last week.

Though she might be short in years and inches, the Orrington native is long in experience: she has already worked the past three years responding to calls with the Orrington Fire Department.

“At first it took me back because here I am just as qualified as another person,” Spencer said.

Spencer has firefighting in her blood. Her father, Mike, was on the Orrington Fire Department for 23 years and was the chief there for many of those years. That gave Spencer an inside perspective on how firefighting works, but one day in particular motivated her to take on the job herself.

Spencer recalled that day five years ago when her father was on a ladder fixing the roof of her family’s house. Mike fell 10 feet and hit the car on the way down, suffering a broken scapula, a deflated lung and bleeding in his brain.

“Neither me or my sister knew what to do,” Spencer said. “Not being able to provide care for him made me want to learn to help people in their time of need.”

Though Mike has since stopped firefighting, he eventually recovered enough to work for Irving Oil.

Meanwhile, Spencer started volunteering at the Orrington Fire Department. In July 2014, she was hired as a per-diem firefighter and in August she went to the Penobscot County Fire Academy. Since then she has responded to wildfires, structure fires, car accidents and emergency medical service calls, though sometimes it’s the smaller calls that keep her motivated.

“When an older person or someone who is suffering from cancer just needs help getting up they’re grateful you got out of bed at 2 a.m. to come help them,” Spencer said. “That’s what we’re here to do.”

Now that she’s at the Dedham/Lucerne Fire Department, Spencer will respond to calls, maintain equipment and train for crises just like any of the department’s volunteers. But she also will serve as a coordinator for student interns from the fire science program at Eastern Maine Community College. The job is a dream come true for Spencer, who aims to make a career out of this type of work.

“In high school, when I said I want to be a full-time firefighter, everybody looked at me like, ‘Huh, you want to do this?’ Because I’m 5 feet tall,” she said. “Just to be able to say I did this is incredible.”

Over her years at Orrington, Spencer worked with her fellow firefighters to adapt her height to firefighting. For example, they came up with a different way she could grip a ladder so that she can push the ladder farther up onto a roof while fighting a structure fire. Now Spencer can push the ladder up just like every other firefighter. Spencer said that neither her height nor her gender makes her any less qualified to do her job.

“I don’t want to be looked at differently or expected to do less or more because I’m a female firefighter,” Spencer said. “I’m just another firefighter.”

While she now works full time at the Dedham/Lucerne Fire Department, Spencer also works per diem at Orrington and is studying to earn her advanced emergency medical technician (EMT) certification. Her goal is to become a paramedic and graduate from a nursing program so that she can become fully versed in pre-hospital care.

“To be a person’s shoulder in their time of need is great,” Spencer said. However, there are ways people can make her job easier.

“Be smart and plan ahead,” she said. “You never know what is going to happen in the next second.”

David Roza

David Roza

David grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and now covers news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.