By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Firefighter Bob Ljunggren maintains a full work schedule with four jobs at different locations including the Shrewsbury Fire Department, where he’s also a hazmat technician. During time off from work March 29, he attended the annual awards and recognition ceremony held at the fire station. There, Ljunggren was presented the 2016 Outstanding Firefighter Award.
Ljunggren is a third generation Shrewsbury firefighter, following his father Robert “Red,” and grandfather Ivar. Memories of his family connection with the department date back long before the current station was built on Church Street.
“Many years ago, a firetruck was parked in the garage of my grandfather’s home on the corner of Route 20 and Edgemere Boulevard,” he said. “When the phone rang with a fire call, he’d push a button for a siren. All the call people in the neighborhood would come and get on the firetruck, then go to the fire.”
Ljunggren’s father began his career as a second generation Shrewsbury firefighter in 1966. After retiring in 1999, “Red” visited his colleagues at the station.
“I had the privilege of working with my father for several years at the same station,” Ljunggren noted.
The current Ljunggren generation began as a Shrewsbury call firefighter in 1982, then became full-time a few years later. In 1988, he got certified as an emergency medical technician. Wanting to share lessons learned on the job, Ljunggren started instructing fire recruit training in 1992 at the Massachusetts Firefighters Academy in Stow.
Working at a 1997 fire on Route 9 in Shrewsbury compelled Ljunggren to pursue further training for himself.
“It was a fire at a facility with a lot of acids,” he relayed. “When I knocked the fire down, I was exposed to acid on my skin. The acid immediately affected me. I made the mistake of pulling off my mask, which is the worst thing you can do. At the time, I didn’t have the experience and training with hazardous materials. I was lucky that nothing negative happened to me other than some first-degree burns and respiratory distress.”
Ljunggren studied to become a hazmat technician and was certified in 1999. Since then he has been training Shrewsbury first responders how to work hazmat incidents. Now, he’s also instructing hazmat training at the Massachusetts Fire Academy.
In 2002, Ljunggren began working with the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services’ hazardous material response team. Among his responsibilities in that position has been working with a mobile hazmat team on the Boston Marathon route each year since the 2013 bombings.
About a year ago, he started instructing hazmat training for responders from departments throughout the nation and world at the Center for Domestic Preparedness in Anniston, Ala. He schedules trips to Alabama approximately once a month.
“I work my 24-hour shifts in Shrewsbury, then do the other training on my days off,” he explained. “I need to use vacation time to do some of my training in Alabama. I find it’s worthwhile. If I can teach a young responder one thing that helps them not get killed, then I’ve done my job.”
Also at the awards and recognition ceremony, Fire Chief Jim Vuona presented Ljunggren with a certificate of appreciation “for outstanding performance and leadership at the October 2016 hazmat incident at 393 Oak St.” There, chemicals ignited a building being torn down. Ljunggren worked on the scene for 28 days.
Joining Ljunggren at the ceremony were his mother Brenda, wife Lynn, daughters Ashley and Samantha, brother Jim with his wife Stephanie, and parents-in-law Evie and Ted Gulledge. After receiving the 2016 Outstanding Firefighter Award, he also got a hug and warm words from his mother.
“My mom was very emotional, reminding me how proud my dad would have been,” he said.