Firefighters have a fraternity that few understand.
They put their lives on the line, wondering what each fire call will bring. They enjoy the camaraderie of being a member of the department and, as volunteers, train hard to make their community a safer place in which to live.
Fire departments from Churchill County and Naval Air Station Fallon know the bond too well. When one brother falls, the rest are there to either pick him or his family up. Since Sunday after Fallon native Charles E. “Bert” Miller was fatally shot in church, both firefighters and the community have reached out to each other to soothe the hurt and promote the fragile healing of losing one of their own.
A vigil to pay homage to both the Miller family and firefighters began a week of mourning and remembrance. Prior to Monday night’s candlelight vigil, Fallon’s firefighters paid their respect at the Miller’s house, just a short distance from Laura Mills Park.
The 61-year-old Miller spent 35 years with the Fallon Churchill Volunteer Fire Department, rising up through the ranks to assistant chief.
Former sheriff and assistant fire chief Bill Lawry fondly remembers when Miller became a fireman in 1983. At the time, Lawry was the county’s undersheriff and a fire captain.
“He was the new guy who came in,” Lawry recounted. “He was easy going, and that impressed me the most.”
Lawry said Miller was a family man — honest, hardworking and dependable.
“He was an all-around good guy,” Lawry said. “He was community oriented.”
Lawry said Miller worked his way up the ranks to become an assistant chief. He previously served as an engineer and captain and most recently was the department’s safety officer.
Dependability was a strong suit for Miller. Lawry said it didn’t make any difference when the fire call came in, Miller was there.
“He took his role seriously,” Lawry said. “He was very safety conscience. He watched out for the guys ... that was his job.”
Lawry and Miller had forged a professional relationship over the years. Lawry said he and Miller attended fire department social events together.
Lawry then reflected on the tragic incident that occurred Sunday.
“Shock is a term that comes to mind,” he said. “The loss starts with the family, the department and community in general.”
Kurt Henning echoed Lawry’s feeling about the shooting.
“Senseless, horrible deal,” Henning said, looking for words to express his friend’s death.
Henning and Miller grew up together, graduating in the same class from Churchill County High School.
“Bert was a good friend,” said Henning, who also served with Miller in the fire department. “Bert had 35 years in the fire department, and I retired four or five years ago at 27 years. He was a great guy.”
Henning recalled the many times both he and Miller would talk about issues relating to the fire department or other issues. Over the years, Henning knew how much the fire department meant to him.
“He was very dedicated,” Henning said. “He probably had one of the highest average on calls.”
Very rarely, Henning pointed out, did Miller not respond to a fire call.
“I remember we could always count on him,” Henning said. “When as an assistant chief I needed something done or ask for advice, Bert was my go-to guy.”
Fire Chief Mike Rice, a 28-year veteran of the fire department, attended two vigils for Miller and reflected on his longtime friendship for his fellow fireman and how their careers paralleled each other.
“I fought fires side by side with Bert Miller for a lot of those years,” Rice recalled. “He was a captain. I was a captain. He was an assistant chief. I was an assistant chief. There is not another person I know who has the dedication of volunteerism.”
Rice said very rarely would Miller not be on a fire call.
“He would never miss a fire because he wanted to go,” Rice added.
Over the years, the fire department relied on its veterans to help the rookies. Rice said Miller was one of the firefighters who would lend his expertise to the recruits who needed to be successful to protect the community.
“It takes hundreds and hundreds of hours to be there and do that and that takes time away from your family,” Rice pointed out. “The love of his life was God, his family and the fire department. I am proud the fire department was part of his life.”
Retired city councilman John Tewell has a special place in his heart for Fallon’s fire department. He spent years on their fire board knowing how the department operated and meeting the firefighters who served their community. For his dedication and years spent in supporting the fire fighters, the department made Tewell an honorary member.
“All the firemen were very helpful,” Tewell said. “As a member of the board, I wasn’t an active fireman, but I always enjoyed getting first-hand information, especially after a fire.”
Tewell wears a blue fire department jacket with pride and at Tuesday’s interfaith vigil he wore a white T-shirt, also promoting the fire department. Afterward, Tewell recalled his times spent with Miller.
“Bert was always there, very jovial. I enjoyed his company at those monthly meetings,” Tewell said. “Bert was good for that.”
Tewell, as well as many residents, is appreciative of Miller’s service to Churchill County, and he knows the community will miss Miller’s service and love for Fallon.
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