Local medic’s service is impetus for proposed change

By David Koran
Citizen Chronicle Writer

SOUTHBRIDGE — On Monday evening, the Town Council will vote to amend compensation of personnel on active military duty.

As the Fire Department hasn’t had an active duty service member since the Vietnam War, until recently there had not been a reason to revisit the rules. State law has been updated over the years to resolve pay discrepancies for those deployed in service of the United States, while towns throughout the commonwealth decide whether they will adopt that same language for local affairs.

Mike Struppa, a Fire Department medic, was recently deployed overseas, and is serving as a flight medic. Fire Lt. Jason Cantara and Fire Chief Mark DiFronzo have both offered support in many ways, including research into state law and communicating between the firefighters union and Mr. Struppa’s family while he is deployed.

Jacques Kallanian, president of the Southbridge Permanent Firefighters Union, said the proposal going before Town Council will improve outdated local policies and is modeled on similar user-friendly language from the town of Revere and is tailored specifically for Southbridge.

“When you don’t address it, years go by, and now the town is taking a serious look at it and taking a proactive response in fixing it,” said Kallanian.

The proposed policy would allow any Town employee who is a member of an armed forces reserve or National Guard unit to receive pay during the time of active service if called to active duty. Employees would be paid the difference between their salary normally received through employment with the Town and their base military pay, provided the military pay is a lesser amount. If enacted, the amendment would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. Town officials said the difference, when applied retroactively, will be approximately $11,000 in Mr. Struppa’s case.

The measure has received strong support from two Town Council subcommittees, and several officials have expressed confidence the proposal will pass without opposition on Monday. Mr. Kallanian said Town Council Chairwoman Denise Clemence has been deeply involved in moving the proposal forward. Mrs. Clemence did not return a message seeking comment.

Councilor Rick Nash said, “Anyone I’ve spoken with, the general consensus has been very favorable. I think it’s the right thing to do and I’ll be supporting the measure. I have active-duty family, so I understand the importance of supporting our service members in the community.”

He said the change would apply to all nonunion personnel, not just firefighters and police.

“You have men and women sign up and they’re taken away from family, taken away from friends, thrown into something foreign to them. They do this, they don’t get paid much, and I just think it makes sense to take care of them in this way. And whether domestic or foreign, their serving our country,” said Councilor Monique Manna. “Thank you, to all who serve.”

Many people helped prepare this proposal, especially and union secretary Michael Gonynor, who worked with the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts as well as Veteran’s Agent Mike Trombley, for providing research and guidance.

A single phrase was repeated many times during interviews for this story: “It’s just the right thing to do.”

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