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Do You Know Millburn's Fire Chief?

Chief Michael Roberts describes his job and his experience with moving the fire department's dispatch to Summit.

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. 

Barney August 29, 2012 at 01:33 PM
How many calls does the FD respond to in a day. How many calls do the PD respond to in a day. I would bet the PD does about 10 times the amount of calls.
suityoself August 29, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Why don't the cops stop complaining about how hard they work. Over there you guys spend more energy fighting with each other than all the criminals put together. The Patch should write a story about all the lawsuits. How Sargents Dyme and Ronceray are both suing your Chief for "harasment". The town could save money if they didn't have to pay for these B.S.suits. I never herd of a firemen suing the town
Millburn Resident August 30, 2012 at 10:34 AM
Oh so Tim’s little doggie has spoken. Never has there been a more self-serving municipal employee than James Michael Roberts. A kid born with a silver spoon in mouth who has destroyed more people’s careers to advance his own, is hated by the rank and file of the Summit Fire Department and is hated by a majority of his own department. If it wasn’t for Tim Gordon, Mike would still be a fire captain. Mike has cracked up after incidents because of the stress and not had the ability to go to work afterwards; he has made $800,000 purchasing mistakes, he is more concerned about parties than doing the right thing. He has entered politics and religion into the public workspace. He has had Catholic priests bless fire engines – how do you think that makes a Jewish or non-Catholic person feel, so much for separation of Church and States? He is neither a communication or radio expert. He has not led a life of example as illustrated by getting motor vehicle tickets in an official fire vehicle from both the Millburn Police, the New Jersey State Police not to mention his conduct at conventions and his own bachelor party.
Millburn Resident August 30, 2012 at 10:34 AM
Do not trust this man. Reread the other article comments about this man. He cannot be trusted. It was okay when his family needs the quick response of the MPD, but he now intends to deny your family the safety over his own political agenda. Recently when an off duty out of town police chief made a rescue in Short Hills, Mike was incensed that the Township Committee and the police chief of Millburn were giving him an award. Mike cried that he wasn’t involved in the process. This man is an egomaniac. Fire Dispatch belongs in Millburn. That is where the safety is, that will result in quicker fire dispatch times, quicker fire response, less duplication of services; less chances of major communication failures. Don’t trust a man like Mike Roberts, if you care about your homes, your businesses, and your families. He will lead you down a road of destruction along with Tim Gordon. See this article for what it is – damage control.
Millburn Resident August 30, 2012 at 10:35 AM
This is not a game we are playing.. This is your property value, this is the life of your family and loved ones. Mike is everything that is wrong in Millburn.
BigShow August 30, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Suityoself looks to me as you are either not from town or just not well educated. You should read your messages before you post them. Multiple mis spellings does not look good on your behalf or the FD's. But then again you could be a teenager from the middle school using your text spelling. "herd" = heard, "sargents" = sergeants, "harasment" = harassment.
miller time September 04, 2012 at 10:13 AM
Craig, This is the second or third time that someone has commented on pending lawsuits at the PD. Do you know if this is true?
mark-m September 04, 2012 at 06:54 PM
If an official says something on the record, it's news and fit to print. If the town doesn't want them speaking, the town, by way of the town attorney, can tell them to clam up, or be left without legal counsel or indemnification. Personally, I'd shut the heck up on active or threatening litigation. Give this new guy some credit. From what I see so far he's aggressive and accurate. What more do you want in a reporter?
Craig McCarthy September 04, 2012 at 09:19 PM
Not to my knowledge miller time.
retired MFD September 04, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Mike hasn't lived in Millburn his entire life, he lived for years in Union and owned a house there.
Mr. Reasonable September 05, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Millburn residents should consider Mr. Roberts' views on shared dispatching. It seems to me that the police department and their cronies are engaging in scare tactics about shared PD dispatching when the real issue is that they simply want to preserve their (apparently unnecessary) dispatching jobs
mark-m September 05, 2012 at 01:35 AM
And that matters to us.....how?
mark-m September 05, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Read this like Maynarg G. Crebbs: Oooh! Ooooh! Dobbie! Mr. Reasonable is right!
Answers needed September 05, 2012 at 10:08 AM
Mark m- I don't think anyone is asking the town to comment on pending or threatened litigation. It would be helpful if the town would confirm or deny the existence of such litigation. If I am not mistaken it is public record. My concern would be if litigation is a factor driving public safety decisions. Is the town seeking ways to offset the cost of litigation and is that savings coming from the transfer of dispatch. And if there are multiple lawsuits then is something being done to remedy the complaints? No one is wrong for asking
River Lane September 05, 2012 at 11:02 AM
He said he lived here his whole life in the article. Goes to the heart can he tell the truth.
River Lane September 05, 2012 at 11:06 AM
I don’t think the lawsuits have anything to do with the issue of police dispatching. That is a completely different story. Also, as for the police cronies’ comments, Police Dispatch is an issue that must be discussed in a public forum and not in secret like Tim Gordon and Mike Roberts were trying to accomplish. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. It might be a good idea to do this, and it might not.. Tim and Mike got caught with their pants down and now they have to work in the light of day and not in a secret government.

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