BARRE, Mass. –
The first full day after an early snowstorm played a pre-Halloween trick on Massachusetts by bringing snow, toppling trees into homes, blocking roadways and stopping the flow of electricity to many residents; Scott Fritscher sharpened the teeth on his chainsaw as it sat on the tailgate of a truck at Barre Fire Department, here, Oct. 31, 2011.
Fritscher lives in town and is a part time firefighter at the department; on Halloween Day, he was working alongside other firemen in an effort to clear the town’s roads of debris.
Except this day is different … Fritscher isn’t on duty with the Barre Fire Department; he’s on duty as a firefighter with the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s 180th Engineer Detachment (Fire Fighters), 79th Troop Command and holds the rank of specialist.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick mobilized members of the National Guard, both Air and Army, to assist local communities hard hit by the storm. When Fritscher’s unit and its sister unit, the 179th Engineer Detachment (Fire Fighters), were called to state active duty, Fritscher never dreamed he would be heading back home.
“It was kind of a shock to be told to come back to Barre,” said Fritscher, “the same person I’m working with as a civilian … I’m helping him now as an (Mass.) Army National Guardsman. It doesn’t get much more neighbors helping neighbors than that.”
The reason the firefighters were in Barre was due to the efforts of Erik Demetopoulos, chief of police, Barre Police Department and the town’s emergency manager. Upon seeing the damage the storm was inflicting upon the town, Demetopoulos contacted the Massachusetts Emergency Management agency and requested a chainsaw team to help clear the roads of the downed trees.
“We also have chainsaws,” said Staff Sgt. Dennis Ragazzini, fire team chief, 180th Engineer Detachment (Fire Fighter), “we can clear roads just like an engineer can. We don’t have the heavy equipment … we have the manpower and we can do this. When they found out that they were getting the firefighter detachments on top of it … it was great for them … they were happy.”
Since the firefighters have been in Barre, they have helped to keep the roads clear by cutting down trees that are creating hazardous road conditions as well as answered seven emergency calls for carbon monoxide leaks, one fire alarm, three instances of trees/power lines catching fire and one car fire.
“We got a call that the Guard was on its way to help us out, which was an asset to us … we probably had only eight or ten people available to us during the day,” said Joseph Rogowski, fire chief, Barre Fire Department.
Rogowski’s son Robert is also a part-time fire fighter in Barre as well as a fire team chief, 179th Engineer Detachment (Fire Fighters).
“I’ve lived here my whole life … got called up …never thought we’d be coming to Barre,” said Staff Sgt. Rogowski, “You just never think you’d be in your hometown.”
The fact that Fritscher and Staff Sgt. Rogowski are residents of the town had an unexpected benefit that other Soldiers would not have been able to provide when it came to assisting with the cleanup.
“It was great, we were able to put them on different crews,” said Chief Rogowski, “They know the town … they know the layout … it was just an asset.”
Ragazzini has visited Barre several times in the past, usually while not on duty, to see Rogowski and his family along with members of the Barre Fire Department.
“We weren’t expecting this,” said Ragazzini, “It’s nice to go to a place where we know the people, where he knows the people and we’re here to help. It’s pretty cool to do that.”
Being able to help those who really are his neighbors is has special significance for Staff Sgt. Rogowski.
“You always train in the Guard … you always talk about your service to the community,” said Staff Sgt. Rogowski, “I’ve helped out a lot of communities in a lot of states … but this is the first time I’ve got (the chance) to help my own. It feels good to be close to home and help out people I know.”
For some of residents of a small town like Barre, seeing the Guardsmen was an unusual but welcome sight.“People can see that the National Guard can be used in a small town , not just the bigger cities,” said Demetopoulos,” To see you guys come out … in means that you guys really care about helping us out. It goes a long way with the residents.