Submitted by her mother Heather J. DePaolo-Johnny11/02/73 – 07/28/02
Heather came into our world on the afternoon of November 2‚ 1973‚ in Buffalo‚ New York. She was a bright and inquisitive child who was excited by and interested in learning. She grew up in a large and loving extended family where she was exposed to‚ at an early age‚ the golden principles of faith‚ respect‚ hard work‚ commitment‚ determination‚ acceptance‚ tolerance‚ compassion and unconditional love. She was an excellent student‚ attending City Honors School‚ gaining many achievements including having her writings published in the ‘Best of Buffalo Schools’‚ a gold medal in the Western New York Science Fair‚ and various awards in music‚ chorus‚ and Spanish literature. She won a scholarship to and attended Syracuse University‚ where she spent time studying in Spain and Costa Rica‚ graduating in 1996 with a dual major in Spanish Literature and Woman’s Studies.
Following graduation. Heather went to work the summer season at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where she realized one of her dreams and hiked the Canyon from rim to rim. She spent the winter season working at Big Sky‚ Montana‚ where she realized another dream and snowboarded the almost 12‚000 foot Big Couloir. It was during her time at the Grand Canyon that Heather met her first wildland firefighters: ‘hotshots’ and ‘smokejumpers’. This was a transforming moment for Heather. She began to see how she could integrate what she had discovered about herself‚ her lifelong love of nature and the environment‚ her dedication to gender equality and women’s issues‚ and what she wanted out of her life. She saw those firefighters as healthy‚ radiant‚ physically fit‚ and doing work that was important to the future of the earth and humankind-and LOVING it! She decided she wanted to be just like them.
She joined Americorps in 1997 and participated in many service projects including working with Heifer Project in Appalachia and working as part of a wildland firefighting team of Americorps volunteers. In 1998 she realized another dream and began her professional career as a wildland firefighter with the Bureau of Land Management at the Lincoln National Forest in Mayhill‚ New Mexico. The next year‚ she was accepted into the Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program and transferred to a job in Cedarville‚ California. As part of her training‚ Heather was detailed to the Redding Hotshots‚ a premier training unit located in Redding‚ California. It was here that she met her future husband‚ Sean Johnny‚ who was also a member of the prestigious crew. They were married while vacationing in Brazil in January‚ 2002. After completing the apprenticeship program. Heather secured a position with the United States Forest Service‚ at the Lassen National Forest.
Heather’s crew‚ Engine 11‚ was sent to aid in suppressing the Stanza fire in the Klamath National Forest in northern California. While patrolling a backfire in the early morning hours of July 28‚ 2002‚ the rear tires of the engine Heather was driving slid off the dirt logging road. The load of water in her truck shifted‚ causing it to tumble 1059 feet down the side of Huckleberry Mountain. She and two of her crewmembers gave their lives doing a job they loved – an essential and extremely dangerous service to humankind.
Heather was a remarkable‚ intelligent and extraordinary young woman. Following her graduation from college‚ the possibilities of fulfilling her life were limitless. She chose to follow her dream. In doing so‚ she showed an uncommon courage‚ and a selfless sacrifice of love. Heather’s loving memory is cherished‚ and continues to live in the hearts of the many individuals her indomitable and loving spirit touched throughout her all too short‚ but full‚ life.