Fire Department Embraces Its Military ‘Brothers'
(September 13, 2009)
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2009 – An Air
National Guardsman from Cambridge, Mass., knows first-hand
the extent to which his co-workers in the city's fire
department support their military brethren. |
“They all [offer] whatever we need,” said Patrick Haggerty,
a lieutenant with the fire department and a master sergeant
who serves in fire protection in the Massachusetts Air
National Guard. “If work needs to be done at home, ...
everyone's like, ‘If any work needs to be done while you're
gone, let us know.'”
That's one of the reasons Haggerty, a 16-year veteran of the
fire department, nominated his employer for the Employer
Support of the Guard and Reserve's 2009 Secretary of Defense
Freedom Award. The award recognizes public and private
employers for going above and beyond what's required by the
Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act
for their employees who serve in the reserve components. The
National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and
Reserve manages the award.
Haggerty, who has served in the Air National Guard for
nearly 19 years, deployed in 2005 to the island of Curacao
in the Netherlands Antilles off the South American coast for
almost six months in support of the war on drugs.
When one of the Cambridge Fire Department's dozen military
employees is activated, the department does its best to ease
any strain on the servicemember and family, Haggerty said,
providing several benefits in addition to making sure
families don't have to deal with major home-repair issues on
“They keep our benefits going,” Haggerty said. “They make
sure that everything's still fine here. That's just one less
thing for us to worry about while we're deployed.”
The touted brotherhood in firehouses is “a true thing,” he
To show their continuous support of the military, department
officials instituted “Red Shirt Friday.” Every member of the
fire department wears a red polo shirt that bears a yellow
ribbon with the phrase “Support Our Troops” on one sleeve.
If a member of the fire department was in the military, his
or her service branch is represented on the other sleeve,
And when department members are deployed, he added, their
fire truck sports a blue star, symbolic of the deployment.
Cambridge Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said that while he
wasn't surprised that Haggerty nominated the department for
the award, he was surprised to learn that his department had
been chosen as one of the 15 award recipients from the more
than 3,200 nominations.
“We had won the Pro Patria award here in Massachusetts and
we were actually shocked at that,” Reardon said. “When you
go to that award [ceremony], there's so many employers out
there that have done some phenomenal things.” The Pro Patria
award is presented by state Employer Support for the Guard
and Reserve organizations.
“I felt humbled by the whole experience, to be honest with
you,” Reardon added.
The chief said either he or the department's chief of
operations tries to attend each deployment ceremony, and
that the department also provides care packages and goodie
bags to their military employees' families. But perhaps the
most important factor in the department's recognition, he
added, is the department's determination to go beyond
Massachusetts law in caring for its military employees.
“Basically, state law ... is that the employer pays you your
salary, less the difference of the military pay or
stipends,” he explained. “I paid them the full pay and I
didn't deduct stipends. At the end of the day, I did get
caught.” At the end of another day, which included a
reprimand by the city manager, the Cambridge City Council
voted to approve full benefits for Guardsmen and reservists
employed by the city of Cambridge who are deployed.
“[They voted] that they would get their full benefits
without touching their military pay, and they had to go to
home-rule petition to the state to do that,” Reardon said.
The ruling retroactively applied to anyone activated to
serve since Sept. 11, 2001, he said.
Currently, the department has one member deployed and
another who recently returned. Reardon estimated that the
about one-third of the department's 300 firefighters are
former military, which could explain the staunch support the
department provides for its military employees.
“[For] the people who serve, or who have had someone serve
who actually know ... the level of commitment and the level of
upsetting your life, ... I think there's great appreciation,”
Reardon said. “Obviously, in previous wars, there was more
of the full-time professional [soldier]. I think now it
really has hit home with the reserve forces.”
The Freedom Award recipients will be recognized at a Sept.
17 ceremony here.
By Samantha L. Quigley|
American Forces Press Service
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