New Fire Chief Miller Has Passion for Public Safety
Before becoming Bellingham’s Fire Chief, Bill Miller worked for 23 years with the Hopkinton Fire Department.
By KEN HAMWEY,
Bulletin Staff Writer
Bill Miller has been Bellingham’s Fire Chief for only 3½ months but it’s easy to detect the passion he has for public safety.
The 55-year-old Miller, who became Bellingham’s chief on June 15 after 23 years with the Hopkinton Fire Department, revealed three interesting situations that indicate the love he has for his profession.
“When I was a senior at Oxford High School, I became a call firefighter in my hometown,’’ he said. “My father (Ralph) was the fire chief in Oxford and he needed help. So, when an emergency occurred, I’d leave the classroom, then return after the assistance was completed.’’
When asked what he liked about firefighting and what was his favorite moment during his 37-year career, his answers were telling. Very telling.
“I love helping people,’’ Miller said. “I’ve got two families — my wife and my children and my firefighting family. And, the best moment of my career was when I became a full time firefighter in 1994 for the Southbridge Fire Department. I felt like I had hit the lottery.’’
Miller indicated that firefighting definitely has a downside, and that’s when a fire creates sadness and difficulty. “Seeing someone lose everything they own is tough,’’ he noted. “And, it hurts to see people suffer injuries and have to rebuild their lives.’’
Miller’s education and his experience are major plusses and they enable him to deal with the emotional highs and lows of his profession.
After high school, he earned an associate’s degree from Quinsigamond Community College in fire science. Two years later, Miller got his bachelors in fire science from Anna Maria College in Paxton. His master’s is in health and emergency management, also from Anna Maria.
Miller started as a call firefighter in Oxford, then went full time at Southbridge for 5½ years. “I joined the staff at Hopkinton in 2000, became a lieutenant in 2003, then was selected as the town’s deputy chief,’’ he said. “I became the chief in 2021.’’
Miller indicated that when he began at Hopkinton, the department had 2 firefighters per shift. That number kept increasing because “the town grew fast.’’ Eventually there were seven firefighters per shift. Bellingham’s department has six per shift.
“My 23 years in Hopkinton prepared me for my current roles in Bellingham,’’ he emphasized. “I enjoyed the journey, but now I’m back home. It’s scary to make a job change at 55, however, I want to be part of a community that’s still growing, both residentially and commercially.’’
Miller has indeed come home. A Bellingham resident for 23 years, he’s married and has three adult children.
The chief’s primary goal is basic. “When I retire, I want the department to be able to accommodate the growth and the demand for services as the town continues to keep growing,’’ Miller said. “And, I want the department to be better for the staff and the residents.’’
Some changes on the horizon include staff size, vehicle replacement, equipment upgrades and assessment of the two stations.
“We need to increase the staff (now at 28),’’ Miller said. “We’ll evaluate current staffing for the increases in request for services. This will require more staffing per shift. Two pumpers and two command cars need to be replaced, an upgrade is needed for portable radios and protective equipment, and we need to evaluate our facilities and assess response times. The town’s future growth will require an evaluation of the stations by an outside agency.’’
The department’s staff includes four shift captains, four shift lieutenants, 16 firefighters/paramedics, a lieutenant and a captain for fire prevention (residential and commercial inspections), a deputy chief and Miller.
Miller is pleased with the staff he’s inherited. “Our personnel’s strengths are their desire, devotion and dedication,’’ he emphasized. “They love their job and I’m blessed to have this staff.’’
Miller suggested that two other attributes are in the mix to become a top-notch firefighter. “A willingness to expand one’s training and an ability to know where they fit into a department are very important,’’ he said.
When a firefighter who has paramedic experience is hired, Miller said the individual likely will have to attend the Mass. Firefighter Academy for a 10-week recruit program. The three academies are in Stow, Bridgewater and Springfield.
Bellingham’s department has two captains (Brad Kwatcher and Robbie Provost) serving as training coordinators who conduct in-service training. There are also two emergency medical service coordinators (EMS). That training is handled by lieutenant Mark Lister and firefighter/paramedic Derek Kesselman.
On-going training and continuing education for EMS personnel are two aspects of firefighting that are state-mandated regulations, which are reviewed annually. Another regulation — for facilities — is an on-going inspection to ensure that fire stations are up to code.
Miller intends to make his department visible to the public. “We’ll schedule visits by captain Kwatcher at Bellingham’s five schools, where the focus will be on fire safety,’’ he said. “And, on Oct. 7, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., we’ll have an open house and kids can sit in vehicles and view all the types of equipment we use.’’
Still fairly new as Bellingham’s chief, Miller says: “It’s awesome the way I’ve been greeted. People have been so gracious and I appreciate the respect they’ve shown me.’’
Bill Miller has 10 years to go before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 65. “I hope all that time is in Bellingham,’’ he said.
There’s no doubt the personable chief would get a thumbs-up on that issue.