COVENTRY — Around eight months ago, Michael Dandurand was deployed, putting on hold his career as a firefighter with the Central Coventry Fire District to serve his country from overseas.
“It feels good to be back,” Dandurand said, standing Friday morning in a bay of the fire station on Arnold Road during his first shift back. “It’s good to reach back home and have the support.”
At 8 a.m., tones rang through the garage as dispatch performed its daily radio test, checking the base radios in each of the town’s stations. And at around 10 minutes past 8 a.m., approximately an hour into Dandurand’s 24-hour shift, another message echoed through the station.
“Central Coventry Fire District would like to welcome back firefighter Michael Dandurand from active military service,” the voice on the other end of the radio began.
“You go out and do military service for our country and give us our freedom,” Chief Frank Brown said to Dandurand following the special announcement welcoming him back. “We all appreciate it in a big way, and we’ve missed you.”
Dandurand, who’s 29 and lives in Warwick, deployed in March to the United Arab Emirates, where he spent six months serving as a firefighter with the Air National Guard.
With becoming a firefighter as his ultimate goal, Dandurand said the training offered by the military drove him to enlist in May of 2014 — he was able through the Air National Guard to take his Firefighter I and II courses. And while that training helped him land his job with the Central Coventry Fire District, Dandurand added that his experience with the department in turn proved useful during his deployment.
“When you go overseas, not everyone has had that experience of working as a firefighter every day,” Dandurand said. “Just having the knowledge of what’s going on in fire service translated very easily into the military.”
And now that he’s home, Brown is thrilled to have him back.
“I’m just glad he came home safe and sound,” said Brown, who got the idea for the special morning announcement from one made recently by the West Warwick Fire Department to recognize firefighter Luke Hogan before he left to join the military.
The sacrifices made by people like Dandurand and Hogan is something Brown feels strongly should be recognized.
“I give all our military people credit for what they do,” he said. “Being away from home for holidays and birthdays and everything else — they deserve a lot of credit.”
Dandurand’s return also happened to coincide with R.E.D. Friday, a national campaign to show support for U.S. troops serving overseas. Firefighters in Coventry have been participating in the initiative for around a year, every Friday wearing red as a reminder to remember those deployed.
“We got the idea a while back to do it, and it just kind of dovetailed in with what [Dandurand] was going through,” said Jim Almagno, president of the local fire union, adding that the district recently started using the weekly occasion to support veterans, as well.
On the back of a red sweatshirt, a logo depicting a plane and military wings is set beneath the words “honor the sacrifice.” Designed by Josh Shannon, a Coventry firefighter and graphic designer, the shirts commemorate Honor Flight, a program that flies military veterans to Washington D.C. to see the memorials of their respective wars.
“Every Friday, everybody wears these,” Almagno said. “We’re technically out of uniform, so every firefighter working contributes $5 as a penalty.”
All money collected from those penalties gets donated to Honor Flight, Almagno continued, adding that the hope is to inspire others to also contribute to the cause.
Dandurand stood Friday morning beside Josh McAllister and Matt Poulin, each donning a red sweatshirt. The three firefighters were members of the same recruit class, sworn in to serve the Central Coventry Fire District in 2017.
“I’m glad we got him home safe,” McAllister said. “We never forgot about him while he was gone.”
The camaraderie Dandurand has formed with McAllister, Poulin and all the other Coventry firefighters is part of what kept him motivated during his time overseas.
“A lot of the guys reached out to me multiple times when I was deployed, making it easier,” Dandurand said. “I felt that brotherhood the whole time.”
As the firefighters stood around, welcoming Dandurand back, dispatch sounded once again over the radio — only this time, the call was for a basement filled with smoke. With no hesitation, Dandurand jumped into gear before hopping behind the wheel of Rescue 4.
And just like that, he was back at it.