SHADY COVE — Fire District No. 4 Fire Chief Bob Miller is retiring June 30, after nearly 21 years of fighting fire in the Upper Rogue, and will be honored with a "Bob Miller Day" open house at the Shady Cove fire station July 4.
Miller said he's already begun practicing his newfound freedom.
What: Bob Miller Day — retirement open house and up-close look at fire engines.
When: 1-3 p.m. Thursday, July 4
Where: Jackson County Fire District No. 4 Fire Station, 21200 Highway 62, Shady Cove
"I laid down with my 21-month-old grandson the other afternoon, and we had a great two-hour nap together," he said. "It was good practice. I think I'm going to like it."
Even though Miller was eligible to retire in November 2011, he decided to stay on.
"I love this work," he said. "As a kid, I always thought a firefighter was a hero."
But Miller said he never planned to be a firefighter himself, and after graduating with a business administration degree from Southern Oregon College, today's SOU, he worked at the Weeks and Orr furniture store in Medford.
While pursing his degree, he wrote a paper about firefighting. His professor was so impressed with Miller's enthusiasm on the subject that he wrote a note on the bottom of the page.
"If you're that interested, maybe you're in the wrong degree program."
Twelve years after graduation, Miller had to agree. He signed up for an introductory fire science class at Rogue Community College, where he was one of the few students not already working with a fire department.
"It seems like your life is settled," he said. "You're married, have kids and a job, but I also had the urge to give back in some way."
Deciding not to pursue a degree, Miller volunteered with Fire District No. 3 in 1983 and began his on-the-job training. When Weeks and Orr closed, he briefly worked as a paid volunteer dispatcher for District 3 and then at North Valley Communications out of Eagle Point, all the while volunteering as a firefighter in his off hours.
By 1987 he was promoted to volunteer fire captain and certified as a fire instructor. With further study, he qualified as an EMT and was certified for fire-command operations. He was assigned to District 3's substation near Dodge Bridge.
"It was like running your own fire department with budgets and all," Miller said. "The only difference was that I reported to District 3 headquarters, while a fire chief reports to a board."
Miller was chosen as District 4 fire chief in August 1992, beating out 20 other applicants.
District 4 Board Chairman Bill Littlefield said Miller has been able to function remarkably well within a budget that has been steadily shrinking since the financial crisis of 2007, and he can be counted on to fill in whenever needed.
He said the district will get an interim chief while it works on hiring a new chief.
For Miller, the busiest day he can remember as chief was his birthday in 2006, when 15 alarms came in.
"It started with a house fire in the morning and then a bunch of medical calls, and we ended up at 4:30 the next morning with a fatal car accident at Dodge Bridge. We just responded here, there and everywhere."
He said the worst nearby fire he faced was the Timber Rock fire, north of Trail, in 2002.
"We had enough volunteers during the day that we were able to put our own strike team together," he said. "We were really proud. What other fire department, beside the really big ones, can staff a strike team?
"That was the eeriest time — seeing guardrail posts on fire, sign posts on fire, burning trees in the roadway and some of the tallest flames I've ever seen."
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.