Don Hewett has been serving as fire warden for Somerville for over half a century. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
By Dominik Lobkowicz
Don Hewett has been serving as the Somerville Forest Fire Warden for so long, the Maine Forest Service did not even have his start date in their system, according to Somerville
Fire Chief Mike Dostie.
The 91-year-old Somerville native has been serving so long even he does not recall exactly when he took on the role, but believes it to be at least as early as the 1959 –
the date the forest service finally came up with during their record search.
The Somerville Fire Department honored Hewett with plaques from their department and the forest service at their annual Christmas party on Dec. 6.
“You have served this town vigilantly for 54 years,” Dostie said to Hewett as he presented the plaques.
And serve Somerville he has: Hewett started serving as deputy forest fire warden under the town’s first warden, Avery Colby, around 1946 before later taking Colby’s place; he
served as selectman for the town from 1945 to 1978; and was a founding member of the Somerville Fire Department where he has served as a member, and for a time, as assistant
“You’ll always be a lifetime member of our department,” Dostie said.
Somerville Fire Chief Mike Dostie awards a plaque to long-serving Forest Fire Warden Don Hewett (left) as Assistant Fire Chief Tim Dostie and Town Clerk
Martha Staples stand by. (D. Lobkowicz photo)
Hewett’s roots in town run deep – on one side of his family he is a fifth-generation resident, and fourth-generation on the other. He lives with his wife of 62 years, Shirley,
near the end of Hewett Road; close to the family home where he used to operate a small dairy farm.
Running the farm made him an ideal forest fire warden, Hewett said, since he was almost always around whenever someone needed to get a burn permit.
“I was busy, but I was here,” Hewett said with a smile.
Hewett has been in the warden game long enough to remember both Maine’s worst forest fire – 205,678 acres burned in 1947 – and Somerville’s worst forest fire the following
Serving as deputy under Colby at the time, Hewett remembers the fire starting on a Sunday in August 1948, with very dry conditions.
The fire started quite a ways north of Route 17 between Crummett Mountain Road and Hewett Road where a man was cutting wood. The fire began when the woodcutter hid his hot saw
in some brush on the property, Hewett said.
The fire did not burn a large amount of acres, but it took a lot of work over the course of a week to bring the fire under control, Hewett said.
Somerville depended heavily on the Maine Forest Service for equipment and organization while combating the fire, Hewett said. Bulldozers, a tanker truck, and a portable pump
were brought in, and patrols were made on foot to control the perimeter, making it very expensive for the town, he said.
“I can’t stress enough how helpful the state people were, the rangers,” not only with the 1948 fire but with training and support in other years, Hewett said.
After the fire, Colby pushed for the town to buy its own portable pump, a Gorman-Rupp, which was hard to start but pumped well, Hewett said.
Later, in 1956, the town bought its first fire truck – a 1931 Chevrolet – from Coopers Mills for $125.
Hewett said he knew the Coopers Mills fire chief well enough that the chief talked the department into practically giving it to Somerville.
Still without its own department, Somerville received a lot of help from Jefferson and Windsor, and tried to give donations to the neighboring departments in lieu of mutual aid,
In those days, without any pagers or two-way radios, the Maine Forestry Department would monitor for fires with lookout towers, and would plot them by crisscrossing sightings
and notifying the proper party by telephone, Hewett said.
“I was quite disappointed when they did stop it, it was quite a personal touch,” he said.
Hewett recalls heading out to fires while his wife, Shirley, would jump on the telephone to start getting the word out.
The town eventually started its own fire department in 1965, and though technology and training has changed over the years, Hewett said his job as forest fire warden has not
changed much since he first began.
“Not for me, it hasn’t. I don’t know how the larger towns have it,” he said.
Still, in the last 15 years or so, Hewett said he has stopped going out to fires personally, and sticks mostly to the permitting side of the job.
He hopes to retire from his position in the spring.