FIRE DISTRICT HIRES A FULL-TIME CHIEF
The Central Platte Fire Protection District is changing with the times. Fire officials responded to current residential and business growth, as well as anticipated development, by naming the district’s first full-time, paid fire chief.
The district’s board of directors has named Troy Miller to the top post. Miller has been serving as interim chief since January, when the previous chief, Larry Bigus, resigned after about 50 years with the department.
The district’s three-member board hired Miller at a meeting last week, choosing him among a field of several applicants. The full time chief position pays $60,000 annually.
Board chairman Mike Ashcraft said Miller, who has served in the volunteer department for the past six years, has the communication skills, business savvy and passion to lead the district’s approximately 30 volunteer firefighters into the distrct’s larger, more populous future.
Growth includes a planned new warehouse east of Platte City along Hwy. 92 and housing construction on the city’s east and south sides.
“His enthusiasm and rapport with the firefighters has been very much appreciated,” Ashcraft said. “The board has been very happy with the progress we’ve seen,” he said of the three-member board’s decision.
Board member Aaron Jung described Miller’s assets as his “drive, compassion and sincerity and true desire to serve the patrons of the district.”
Miller said because he has only been a volunteer firefighter for the past six years, some might question the board’s decision.
“It’s no secret—I won’t hide it,” he said. “Do I have 20 to 30 years in it (firefighting)? No, I don’t,” he said.
But Miller said he brings to the position a lifetime of leadership roles and a lot of compassion for the community and considers his “work ethic” one of his most important assets.
While the department “has a ton of good equipment,” he plans to focus on “sharpening our biggest resource—our people,” he said.
Adequate training is vital to all departments, but especially crucial to all-volunteer groups, such as Central Platte.
He describes volunteers as those who act “out of the goodness of their own hearts on top of regular day jobs.”
He tells his department members, “A good firefighter knows how—an educated firefighter knows why.” Miller said. “I really let them chew on that.”
Volunteers are “married to a pager” and can be called anytime of the day or night, he said of the department’s 1,600 calls each year. The department averages about 100 calls per month, which can vary, depending on the weather and a variety of other factors.
Communication is the key to building strong relationships, Miller said, and he wants residents and business owners to know his door is open. Face-to-face meetings can spark “a lot of understanding” and could, perhaps, help solve some of society’s problems, said Miller, who has lived in Platte City with his wife, Hazel, and two teenaged daughters for the past eight years (a stepdaughter lives elsewhere).
“I want to hear your story,” he said and asked, “how did you become you?”
Miller said although the public often thinks of firefighters as saving people from burning structures, the role of firefighters actually is more diverse, ranging from educating the public about fire safety to mundane tasks such as encouraging, and even helping, residents replace batteries in smoke detectors. Miller said the department has a drawer full of nine-volt batteries ready for the task.
But Miller’s passion for the community isn’t limited to firehouse work. He has been a member of the board of aldermen, an elected position. Holding the two posts does not violate city ordinance since the board of aldermen has no oversight into or involvement with the fire department.
Miller praises his predecessors for “doing a phenomenal job” and establishing “solid bones,” especially in the area of equipment, from the latest in trucks and pumpers to up-to-date safety gear. Miller hopes the public feels free to stop by one of the district’s two stations to check out the equipment.
“These big, red, pretty trucks belong to them (the public), not us,” he said.
Public presentations are a key role of the department and school visits are essential to spreading public awareness, he said, adding that firefighters like to begin speaking while not wearing gear so children can see them as real people. Because a fully suited firefighter can be intimidating, especially to children, they put on their protective clothing, which weighs about 75 pounds, while speaking to reduce fears and explain its importance.
Miller said the department’s “Freddy the Firetruck,” a child-sized, stylized version of the department’s red trucks, with moveable eyes and a squirt gun that shoots water, is a big hit with young children.
The department, which covers about 112 square miles, operates out of two stations. The first is located at Second and Main in downtown Platte City and serves as the district’s headquarters, where firefighter association meetings are held and Station Two, located at Interurban and Winan Road east of Platte City. That station “provides coverage to our eastern portion of the district…and increases our response times…and plays an important role in increasing our ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating,” according to the department website.
In addition, Station Two increases the department’s mutual aid response times (assisting other departments), the website states. Fire districts are assigned ISO numbers based on their overall effectiveness by calculating how well-equipped departments are to extinguish fires. Central Platte has earned a rating of four on a scale of one to ten, with one being the best score and ten the worst. The ratings are reported to insurance companies, who use the calculations to help determine insurance rates.
Miller summed up the role of firefighters.
“We’re not just here to put out fires,” Miller said. “We’re there for you on what could be the worst day of your life.”