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Staff Writer

DEVENS — “This is the best job in the world,” firefighter Andrew Dufresne said last year when Devens Fire Chief Thomas Garrity introduced Dufresne and his hazardous material remediation expertise to the department as a full-time temporary employee.

But a budget crunch denied him the position and he turned to heavy construction and call firefighting work in Boxborough.

Seven months later, on May 14, 2007, he was back — as a full-timer — taking firefighter Charles Baker’s spot when the former accepted a job in Concord.

Dufresne hit the cement floor of the bay running, and — while performing normal duties as a member of the suppression and working crew, and handling inspection, training and maintenance tasks — was instrumental in completing a full certification application for the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), and an upgrade to the 3-inch thick Emergency Management Plan and Hazardous Materials Plan by June 7.

For that, and his willingness to “step up to the plate to do whatever needs to be done,” Chief Garrity nominated Dufresne to receive the seventh-annual Nashoba Publishing Extraordinary Service Award.

“This really is important from a behind-the-scenes perspective,” Dufresne said of the small mountain of documentation. “No stone was left unturned. It’s a who-does, who-pays, who-works list as well as a tabulation of every business and residence with any potential hazardous materials that requires a MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet).

“Fire has to know who has what and where,” he explained. “The plan also gives us the leverage we need to get grant money that communities without resources can’t get, which allows us to share our resources with our neighbors.”

Dufresne has an extensive background in report and grant writing as a trained hazardous material remediation (HAZMAT) specialist, working in the HAZMAT industry for 10 years in Northboro and as director of field operations for HAZMAT mitigation at All State Power Co. in Virginia.

He and his wife, Susan, are eight-year residents of Sterling. He is an EMT and has 15 years of call firefighting experience in Sterling, West Boylston and Princeton. He works part-time as an EMT for a private emergency medical service company, Eascare Ambulance, and is a support staff member at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy in Stow.

Dufresne came back on his own time this spring to photograph the full-blown, multi-agency HAZMAT exercise Garrity ran in the Reserve Forces Training Area, involving the military, firefighters and EMTs from seven surrounding communities.

Judging by the hazing he received when Nashoba Publishing photographer John Love arrived to take the picture accompanying this article, Dufresne is definitely part of the Devens team. And it will cost him, for a published picture is worth a serious amount of ice cream purchased for four shifts of firefighters and officers.

“Please, make it a small picture,” he pleaded.

Last year, Dufresne was one of three Devens firefighters to share the Extraordinary Service Award. Another was Lt. Michael Vachon.

“You won it again?” Vachon good-naturedly bellowed from outside the room. “How’d you do that?”

Minutes later Vachon’s voice was heard on the two-way radio, announcing Dufresne’s selection as some kind of “super-dooper” and offering, “Anyone who wants his picture taken with Andy, please report to the kitchen.”

Dufresne, clad in full firefighting gear, glumly posed for his picture as cat-calls emanated from colleagues hiding behind a truck.

“Myself and Mr. Kelley (firefighter Timothy Kelley) work four days a week as opposed to doing shift work so we see more of the (maintenance, inspections, and work for the shift lieutenant or the deputy chief) than do the other shifts,” Dufresne doggedly continued.

“I’m surprised (at the award) since I’ve been here a short time. I appreciate the recognition but I feel everyone here does the same job. We all deserve the award,” he said.

“Yeah, we’re surprised to see you outside of that hole of yours,” one firefighter said of Dufresne’s administrative workload.

“The more practical side of the (emergency plan) allows firefighters to operate more safely,” Dufresne said. “If one has the proper training, it allows us to operate more efficiently. It was a bit of work, but it had to be done.”

“This is the best job in the world, for as much ribbing as we do,” he reiterated. “It’s a vocation I’ve always wanted, since I was a kid. After 10 years of working as a HAZMAT chemist, and in the field doing environmental chemistry for very long hours, I decided to try something else.

“My dad, Edward, is a retired call firefighter and I was exposed to firefighting through him. As a child I was always fascinated by the trucks and gear I saw in parades, and I’ve always been interested in historical records of the Boston, Chicago and San Francisco departments.

“And now I’m here,” Dufresne concluded. “I thank the chief for his thoughts and all my colleagues for their help and support, and welcoming me back after being away. I wouldn’t be here if Charlie Baker hadn’t taken that job.”

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