Fire Chief Michael Roberts, who has lived in Millburn all his life, sat down with the Patch recently to explain his time with the Fire Department. He also shared his experiences having a dispatch in another town, which the department did over 28 years ago. Roberts was also a police officer in East Orange before he became a firefighter in Millburn.
The Patch: How would you describe your average day?
Roberts: There is no average days. My day, I come in with an agenda. I could come in and get called from town hall for a meeting, I could have one of the trucks break down, so we kind of have to stop everything and see what's going on.
I never know what's going to happen and if a fire comes in that turns everything upside down, any meetings I ever had.
The Patch: Can you explain then how it is being chief?
Roberts: When you're the chief you're responsible for everyone, the firefighters safety, the citizens safety, the safety of every firefighter coming in from other towns. So when people ask me why I never smile at a fire, I say become chief and you'll understand.
The Patch: What happens if there is a fire after you have left for the day?
Roberts: I am on call 24 hours a day. I have a pager and radio at home. If I'm away, I appoint someone in charge so we have 24-hour coverage.
The Patch: Can you explain how the department is dispatched to a fire?
Roberts: In dispatching a fire, they send out a tone that opens a speakers in both fire houses. When the first engine calls to say that they are responding, they'll get the address, what the call is, the two between streets and the location on the block.
We have every house on our database in town, so we can say, 'it's the four house on the left on the block.' It will also give us hydrant information. So, there is generally more radio traffic on the fire and on the call.
The Patch: So you would say that a fire call would tie up a dispatcher longer than a police call?
Roberts: Yes, absolutely.
The Patch: So on the police dispatch, what would you say to the current issue of the police dispatching in town?
Roberts: I've lived through this and it turned out not to be the end of the world for us. I can understand though.
I don't want to say we had similar growing pains because I don't want to assume that I know what they're going through. But we had growing pains in the beginning and it worked out well. There are certain questions and concerns that need to be answered.
The Patch: Can you explain your experience with Summit taking over the department's dispatching?
Roberts: You know, 28 years ago, I was a firefighter when we went to Summit and the same thing that was going on here [now]. There was things going on saying this isn't going to work. I can honestly say over 28 years, it not only worked in dispatching for us, it brought us together as two departments.
We have our shared service, so when a fire happens, because they dispatch us, they just push the two buttons together and all three fire houses open up, two in Millburn and one in Summit. If there is any report of smoke or fire in either town, the fire engines from the other town go. So were getting three engines instead of two. It does improve our service.
The Patch: Can you explain some of the issues you went through when moving dispatch to Summit?
Roberts: We were angry too because we were losing staffing. We had dispatchers on the desk and lost four people. We had civilians dispatchers for a little while. We didn't think it was going to work. There was more anger over that and we should be doing our own dispatching, its home rule.
We seem to have gotten over that though. We do a lot of training together, our policies mirror each other and I'd like to think a lot of positive things came out of it as a result.
The Patch: What are some positive things you have seen?
Roberts: The nice thing about combined centers, when you have three or four partners, you have money to use and buy technology that a single town wouldn't have that money for. Whether its GPS, GIS or vehicle location, you have that capability in a larger center. Also, when you have a joint facility you have better opportunity for grants.