Family, firefighting, homesteading & hunting
Big Sky Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Dustin Tetrault on living a good life
Big Sky Fire Department (BSFD) Deputy Fire Chief Dustin Tetrault said with a laugh that Alicia Fischer, BSFD’s administrative officer, often describes his two daughters as “feral”. Ages five and six, he calls them imaginative, wild and free. “They’re little strong independent women already,” he said. They spend summers playing in the creek “and I’m always telling them to keep their clothes on.” It is the idyllic Montana life – the way to raise a family away from distractions and worries of the city. Other than at school, they do not watch television or use an I-pad. They are nearly constantly outside.
The family has a little homestead and they raise chickens, pigs and cows. Big into non gmo, pasture raised meat, Tetrault has become an amateur butcher and the girls, at their young age, understand where their food comes from.
“They understand hunting, we are not killing for big horns and stuff like that we are killing for sustenance and to feed our family,” he said.
The family also embraces gardening and baking.
The beautiful life they have built is in some parts thanks to chance and quick connection at a campsite.
In 2010, he and his wife Kathy loaded up a camper in central Illinois and set their wheels in motion, with Glacier National Park as their destination. Camped right next to them was a physician recruiter – and it just so happens that Kathy is a physician’s assistant. They exchanged information. Three months later she flew out for an interview in Sheridan and was hired on the spot. Five months later, they were having a garage sale and selling most of their things for the move.
The couple certainly paid their dues early-on. Everything they now have was hard-fought. They met when they were both in the ambulance service in Peoria. She was earning her bachelor’s degree and he had been indecisive in his early college career. After she graduated and they were married, she said she thought about getting an advanced degree. He told her she should. Her first application to a physician’s assistant school was accepted. Newly married and with a mortgage, she moved four hours away for a rigorous program.
“So, I was working two jobs to support us: 24 hours on a fire service and 24 hours on an ambulance department as well. It was brutal. We were just dirt poor, too. Barely affording a house and her apartment at school,” he said.
After she finished school she was working in vascular surgery and he was working on the fire department.
“We were overdoing it and just kind of wanted to get out of there,” he said. That is what sparked their move to Montana – and they have not looked back. Now, Tetrault is going back to school.
“I just got my bachelor’s degree finally – public safety administration and now I’m getting my master’s at University of Montana in their public administration program. It took me a bit of jostling around before I had some direction,” he said. He has an appreciation for what he is learning thanks to its real-world application with his position.
“It makes it relatable and makes me retain it so much better,” he said. Fire service is in his blood – his dad volunteered for the fire department for 18 years. So, in many respects he grew up in a fire house and even used to take the department’s antique fire engine around to shows with his dad.
Diversifying his work experience, he ventured into wildland firefighting. Then, he worked as DES Coordinator and fire warden in Madison County before heading to Big Sky for this newly created position.
There was a brief moment in his history when he almost left the fire service and became a park ranger – he is awfully glad he stayed true to his roots – and is grateful for his Montana life.