Desire to serve still burns in veteran volunteer

PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Niskayuna Fire District 1 Fire/Police Capt. Fred Miller stands in the apparatus by at the Balltown Road firehouse Friday, February 3, 2017. Capt. Miller was recently recognized for 50 years of volunteer service in the fire company.PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER Niskayuna Fire District 1 Fire/Police Capt. Fred Miller stands in the apparatus by at the Balltown Road firehouse Friday, February 3, 2017. Capt. Miller was recently recognized for 50 years of volunteer service in the fire company.

BY KRISTIN SCHULTZ
Gazette Reporter

For half a century, Fred Miller has responded to emergency calls as a volunteer at Niskayuna Fire District No. 1. Whether the call comes in the middle of the night or in the middle of a business meeting, Miller’s sense of duty and commitment to his fellow firefighters and his community propels him to the scene.

On Jan. 28, Miller’s 50 years as a Niskayuna fire volunteer earned him the Firefighter of the Year award at a ceremony held at The Waters Edge Lighthouse. The award is kept a secret until it is presented and Miller was surprised at the honor.

“I had no idea they were going to do that,” he said. “But when they put the flower on me, I knew something was up.”

Miller came to Niskayuna Fire District 1 from Rotterdam, where he had served for four years. He has seen the number of homes, apartment complexes and business increase in town, and has also witnessed the implementation of more rigorous training and the acquisition of more sophisticated firefighting equipment.

“Way back when, you’d just go into buildings with a mask on,” he said. “Today everybody goes in with self-contained breathing apparatus and they know exactly what they need to do.”

Since 1974, Miller has served as a fire police officer. Now captain of fire police, his job at fire and accident sites is to secure the scene so that emergency workers can safely do their jobs. This often involves putting himself in harm’s way as he is responsible for closing roads, directing traffic and keeping onlookers safe.

“You have to have eyes in the back of your head. You can’t daydream out there,” he said. “People will drive right by you, or try to drive through you. I’ve had to jump out of the way of cars.”

Whether attending a training session like the recent ice rescue training on the Mohawk River or rerouting traffic around an accident or fire scene, Miller loves helping people and working with his fellow firefighters.

“No matter if it’s fire or medical, I enjoy helping people in need,” he said. “Career staff and volunteers get along here. We work as a team and it works out great.”

Neither Miller nor Fire Chief Dale Lingenfelter could say exactly how many calls Miller has answered over the years, but they estimate more than 5,000.

Miller responds to an average of 100 calls per year, sometimes leaving work to take a call.
Lingenfelter calls him “Steady Freddy” because he can be counted on to be there, whether at monthly meetings or training or responding to an emergency.

“The day after the award ceremony, I came in and Fred was here at 8 a.m. to respond to a call,” Lingenfelter said.

“I gotta stay active, stay young,” said Miller who two years ago tried to retire from his day job as a restaurant supply dealer. “It’s not for me. I can’t sit around or play golf all day.”

He returned to his job and works full time in addition to volunteering.

“I hope I’ve done something to help the community along,” Miller said. “I have no plans to retire from the fire district or my day job. I’ll keep walking through that door.”