Fire Department Takes Care of Military Employees, Families
By Sara Moore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 17, 2008 Serving in the Marine Corps Reserve while working for the Jersey City Fire Department, Leonard DiStaso said, he always felt the department supported him in his military service.
However, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, military service took on a whole new meaning, and the Jersey City, N.J.,fire department stepped up its efforts to support its employees who serve in the reserve-component military, he said.
“9/11 affected our department and city deeply, being we are simply a five-minute drive to the World Trade Center site, and the department responded on that morning,” DiStaso, a captain with the department, said. “Jersey City Fire Department even lost one member during the collapse. We all spent several days assisting with the search-and-rescue effort. So when I was being activated, the department was extremely supportive of me and my family.”
Seven years after 9/11, the Jersey City Fire Department is being honored for its troop-support efforts with the 2008 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which recognizes employers who provide exceptional support to employees serving in the National Guard or Reserve.
DiStaso, a chief warrant officer with the 6th Motor Transport Battalion in New Haven, Conn., has been deployed to Iraq twice in the last five years. During his deployments, his co-workers at the fire department stayed in touch with his family and helped them with snow shoveling and other necessities, he said. His co-workers also raised thousands of dollars to buy phone cards for him and his fellow Marines in Iraq, as well as for wounded Marines at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and they brought Christmas gifts for the families of all the Marines in his unit.
DiStaso said he trains with the Marines at least one weekend per month, and when that interferes with his work schedule, the fire department always lets him reschedule. The department also continues full pay for deployed employees for periods of service up to six months and differential pay after that, and continues benefits for servicemembers and their families for periods of service up to 12 months.
DiStaso said his job at the fire department, where he has worked since 1997, complements his military career well. “I absolutely love my job and this department. It is a very close group, and hard-working,” he said.
His co-workers at the fire department were surprised to learn about the Freedom Award, DiStaso said. His fellow firefighters have never asked for recognition for their support efforts, he said, so he is glad they’re being honored.
The Jersey City Fire Department will receive the Freedom Award along with 14 other companies in a ceremony tomorrow at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here. The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to recognize exceptional support from the employer community.