Fire Department honored for making it easier for employees to serve their country

The Connecticut Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve hosted its annual employer award ceremony in Hartford earlier this year to recognize employers that were nominated for the Secretary of Defense’s Freedom Award. The Milford Fire Department was among those honored for making it easier for local firefighters to serve their country.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) award program honors employers for their outstanding support of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. The ESGR is a Department of Defense office that develops and promotes supportive work environments for service members.

“Each year, Guard and Reserve employees, or a family member acting on their behalf, have the opportunity to nominate their employer for the Freedom Award,” according to the program website. “The ESGR State Committees review nominations and submit recommendations to advance to the next round in each of the three categories: small employer, large employer and the public sector.”

Not only does the Milford department ensure firefighters that their jobs will be held while they are deployed, the department also makes sure their pay and benefits continue and sends them letters and support packages while they are serving their country.

Lt. Steve Rabel was deployed in 2010 for two months following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also referred to as the BP oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico. A Milford firefighter since 2003, who had served 12 years with the Air Force and eight years with the Coast Guard, Rabel said it meant a lot that his employer supported him.

Firefighter Zak Daniel was deployed to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf for six months in 2012. A six-year member of the department, he said the department’s policy and support made it easier for him to transition from military to civilian life.

Milford firefighters have left to serve their country for a couple of months to, in one case, two years, according to Fire Chief Douglas Edo.

The department makes sure the firefighters continue to get their full pay, and offsets that expense with the salary the military pays the employee, Edo said.

At one time, two firefighters were deployed at the same time, and the department posted two stars on the front of fire headquarters until they returned, noted Greg Carman, fire department spokesman.

“The men and women who volunteer to serve our country will spend weekends and entire weeks away from their families training,” Carman said. “Some get called to duty where they may spend months to a few years away from their loved ones, never knowing if they will see them again. The security of a career to come back to and the financial support for their family is something they have earned and deserve.”

Daniel and Rabel said the Milford Fire Department goes above and beyond in supporting its employees who have military ties.

On Fridays, department members often wear red T-shirts to remember everyone deployed, and contribute funds to the Wounded Warrior project.

Other Connecticut employers honored along with the Milford Fire Department were Allied Barton, Canterbury Elementary School, Chuck and Eddie’s Used Auto Parts, Ensign Bickford, Travelers Insurance and TTM Technologies. Representatives from Cigna were honored too, and were chosen to proceed to the national level as a finalist in the ESGR award program.