BANGOR, Maine — Six Bangor firefighters are pulling double duty for the community and their country by also serving in the National Guard, according to Bangor Fire Chief Scott Lucas.
“I have one who just returned from Afghanistan and three who are being deployed,” the fire chief said Tuesday.
Bangor Fire is not the only public safety department that has members serving in two uniforms. The Brewer Police Department has two Maine Guard members, the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office has six, the Augusta Police Department has at least four, Portland’s Fire Department has at least three, the Maine State Police has about two dozen, and the list goes on.
“The first thing is: We thank them for their service to our country,” Penobscot County Chief Deputy Troy Morton said Wednesday of the Maine Air National Guard, Maine Army National Guard and Maine Army Reserve members in the sheriff’s office. “They come back with a lot of skills and worldly knowledge.”
Staff Sgt. Daryl O’Kresik of the 488th Military Police Company of the Maine Army National Guard returned stateside in mid-June from his second overseas deployment since being hired as a Bangor firefighter-paramedic 6½ years ago.
“All total with the deployments and training I’ve been gone for 2.5 years,” he said Tuesday, with his wife, Linda Coan O’Kresik, sitting beside him. “The other firefighter-paramedics on my crew, they have to be rearranged to cover my shifts for the whole year.
“It takes a toll on them while I’m gone,” he said.
O’Kresik’s fellow firefighters also supported his family members left at home, by doing “simple things like having firewood prepared” and checking on them while he was away.
“That was really reassuring to me,” O’Kresik said.
The three Bangor firefighters who are deployed as part of the Maine Air National Guard and Maine Army National Guard asked that their names not be released to protect their loved ones left at home, but the Bangor fire chief did provide some details about their service with the fire department.
“One gentleman has been here since ’87, so he has in excess of 25 years [of service],” Lucas said. “One has been here since 1997 and the one who has been deployed for a month has been here since 1998.
“They’ve all been deployed at least once before,” said Lucas, who was hired in December and came from Michigan.
“Everybody here picks up the slack,” Lucas said of the deployments. “These guys … I can’t say enough. We will miss them, not only when we respond to a call, but as part of the extended fire department family as well.”
The military personnel who serve with the Maine State Police are not just Guard members and reservists, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
“We have some that are actually on active duty as we speak,” he said Tuesday. “That has been a constant since 9/11.”
To recognize the sacrifice of employers, Gov. Paul LePage has proclaimed Sept. 22-28 as “Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week” throughout the State of Maine.
“Our nation is indebted to these brave men and women who regularly leave their families and the comforts of home to ensure our freedoms, as well as the dedicated and supportive employers who continue to make service in the Reserve Components possible,” LePage said in a press release.
Col. Douglas A. Farnham of Bangor, commander of the Maine Air National Guard’s 101st Air Refueling Wing, said the two Bangor firefighters who deployed this week are among eight MAINEiacs who are heading overseas to an area covered by the U.S. Central Command, which encompasses the region between Egypt and Pakistan to the southeast and Kazakhstan to the northeast.
Unlike the Army Guard, which typically sends an entire unit, the Air Guard typically deploys small, specially trained groups, said Farnham, who has been in uniform for 22 years.
“This has been something that has been going on for a dozen years and our Guard members have had to rely on understanding employers and family members,” the 101st commander said. “That’s part of the Guard.”
Linda Coan O’Kresik, who works part-time as a Bangor Daily News photographer, said she and the couple’s two children, ages 4 and 8, know all about service.
“As awful as it is when he’s gone, we’re proud of what he does,” she said.
Her husband said the brotherhood that starts at work both in the Guard and as a firefighter quickly spreads throughout their personal lives.
“It’s kind of corny and cheesy, but it’s real,” Daryl O’Kresik said of the lifelong friendships created. “We rely on each other for everything we do at work and it builds a very strong bond and it transfers over to when we’re not at work.”
Farnham said a good number of his airmen and women work in law enforcement, as firefighters or in other public safety positions, and he believes that is true on the Army side of things as well.
“A lot of our service providers are doing double duty,” he said.