Glen Miller: The fire service is in his blood

Loujane Johns
Glen Miller

It is often said that people are born with certain traits and characteristics inherited from other family members.  Retiring after nearly 30 years of service as Yates County Emergency Management Director, Glen Miller, is a true example of what it means to be born into the fire service.

On Friday Dec. 3, following a few days to digest the tribute given to him on his last day, Nov. 29, when he was escorted home by one piece of apparatus from each fire department in the county, Miller took time to reflect on his career and future.

Miller says his earliest memories are of being at Grandma and Grandpa Miller’s on Christmas when the fire siren went off and the fire phone rang.  The celebration came to a halt as many members of the Miller family answered the call.  “I learned at an early age to get out of the way when the siren went off,” he recalls.  

He remembers helping with fundraising dinners at the early age of 6 or 7.  Back then the dinners were held at the old firehouse on Hollister Street.  Miller can trace the early family involvement in firefighting to his great-grandfather, who was assistant foreman in 1896 and became assistant engineer in 1902 ( the nowadays equivalent of fire chief).  Miller says he thinks there has always been a Miller in the Dundee Fire Department, and there are many more coming on.

Miller says he never thought twice about joining the fire department.  “I was not forced to join, it was just a right of passage.  I joined the fire service as soon as I could in December 1973,” he says.

In September 1974 Miller went to work as a part time fire fighter for the City of Corning, while working full-time at Sheppard-Niles and taking classes at Corning Community College in Firefighting.

“It was a couple of years after the floods from Hurricane Agnes devastated the Corning area and I learned a lot from the guys in that station,” he says

But Miller says it was not the paid firemen in Corning who helped him the most in starting his career.  He says he owes so much to some of the older firemen of Yates County.  

“Everyone has mentioned my family, but its was former Yates County Fire Coordinator Tom Disbrow who helped me the most.  He helped me connect with people to open the door.  Half the battle is opening the door, but you have to prove yourself,” says Miller.

He also says local State Instructors John Woods and Roger Ribble were great advisors.  A believer in preserving the past, Miller says he has many of Disbrow’s and Instructor Jack Weaver’s slides he plans to work into power point presentations, so others may enjoy reviewing techniques of the past.  He also has many photos by a photographer named Lunney, who took pictures of many fire scenes around Penn Yan.

For a year Miller worked as a fireman at the Canandaigua VA. A full time job came up with the Corning Fire Department in 1978 and he stayed there until he was named to the Yates County job on March 13, 1981.

Working with the kids in the schools on fire prevention started in 1977.  Miller said he did fire prevention at Penn Yan, Dundee, Middlesex Elementary, St. Michael’s, Emmanuel Baptist and Pre-Emption Rd. School until 1993.

Putting so many years into the dangerous line-of-duty, it is hard to come away unscathed.  

Miller says he has suffered countless cuts, scrapes, back, leg and arm injuries.  He sustained a few injuries when a building collapsed in a Corning fire.  A fellow firefighter received career ending injuries at that incident.

It was an accident just a few years ago, that he says made him much more careful.  At a fire scene a hose line blew and the charged snake-like line flew back and hit him in the shoulder, the force knocking him back against a fire tanker.

He remembers the loud bang, being wet and trying to get off the ground.  At first he didn’t recognize anyone, even family members.  He was off work for four months undergoing rehabilitation and another two months he worked part time.  An infection slowed his recovery and many memories were wiped from his mind.

When asked about memorable fires, Miller sadly remembers a fire, early in his career.  In 1975 or 76 there were six fatalities in a fire on the Altay Road.  Another fire near Labor Day (year unknown) at Rumsey Trailer Park claimed the lives of two children, who Miller had taught in fire prevention class.  “Some you never forget,” he said.

He quickly added, “but some are success stories.”  In the early days, he remembers removing his tank in the confined space of the Wayne Church to help put in a hose - an absolute fire-fighting no-no.  But the church was saved and still stands.  Inside fire-fighting was learned from his Uncle Jack, who he calls ‘the best-inside firefighter’ ever.

Over the years he has seen many changes, especially in equipment and technology.  Better training, equipment and gear have evolved.  In the  past when something broke down on a truck, some guys had the mechanical aptitude to just start working on the problem.  Now, he says the vehicles are all computerized and an expert is called.

Miller says he has tried to use some of the newest equipment, especially radios and found himself going back to the old.  “If you don’t use it everyday, you forget how,” he explains.

It’s not surprising that Miller says he won’t spend his retirement sitting in a rocking chair. 

He has lots of plans, and says it will be nice not to have pressure and responsibility.  He has a desire to teach, as others have taught him.  “It’s pay back to those guys, but I like to think of paying it forward,” he explains.  Miller has already taught at conferences in San Diego, Indianapolis, Baltimore and all over New York State.

In retirement Miller says he will have time to sort through his cellar,  garage and his “unofficial museum.” His love for collecting things came from his parents Roger and Cora. 

Over the years he has collected a lot of historical memorabilia, especially fire-related.  He has over 200 helmets and countless ribbons and badges.

The old barn is home to a 95 percent restored 1955 Ward LaFrance.  Miller already has his eye on another restoration project.  He has seven hand-drawn pieces of apparatus.

Miller admits he is sometimes on eBay in the middle of the night, searching for treasures, but not always for himself.

He recently found an 1800 fire uniform for Glens Falls, which they have proudly encased in their station. He says he likes to see things returned home.

Glen and his wife, Pam, have lived in a rambling 14 room Victorian house built in 1887 by Dundee Dr. Maloney, filled to the brim with collections, for 18 years.

Miller says his wife has been understanding and supportive over the years, explaining, “My job is not a 9-5.  There have been a lot of missed dinners, not following through on commitments and screwed up plans. I couldn’t do this job without family commitment.  I have a lot of good neighbors who have helped out.”

Miller praised the help from Diane Caves and Chris Warriner with EMS.  He said Diane dotted his “i’s” and crossed his “t’s.”  He said it has been a great partnership.

“There has been a lot of talk within the county legislature about benchmarking.  They should not worry about going out to look at other counties to see what they are doing.  Because we are way ahead of them in fire service.  Others are looking at us for guidance.”

Summing up his career, Miller says,  “I consider myself very fortunate, to be able to follow my passion and to do it in the community I was born and raised in.  I was offered better jobs, but I am grateful to the people of Yates County for keeping me employed to care for my family here.”

As a Deputy Coordinator, he will volunteer time to help pay back.  “I hope people look back at my tenure with the county in a positive light.  When someone picks up the phone calling for help, there are capable dispatchers, EMS and fire involvement.  If I am going to an incident it is not a good day for somebody. “

Miller says when he thinks about it, he doesn’t have many friends outside the fire service.

But when you dedicate your life to keeping the public safe, you have more friends than you can imagine.