Larry Miller may not remember the first fire he ever helped fight as a member of the West Liberty Fire and Ambulance Department, but he says he’s not going to miss getting up in the middle of the night in frigid temperatures to race to an emergency situation.
After 33 years, Miller is hanging up his fire helmet, rubber boots and rubber gloves, saying it’s simply time to call it a day and leave the work for younger first responders. “I wasn’t going to be one to quit when I was too old to help. I wanted to still be active,” he said.
“Larry has been on the department for 33 plus years and has been a constant that we could always depend on,” said fire chief Kirt Sickles. “He would go on close to, if not more, 200 calls a year since we have known him.”
Sickles described Miller, who was involved both as a fireman and a certified emergency medical service (EMS) volunteer as a “gentleman” who is a “kind and caring individual that when those tones went off, he was heading to the fire station to help save a home or a life!
“I have not met a more dedicated and selfless individual and he will severely be missed,” Sickles added.
Miller, who formerly co-owned Fred’s Feed in West Liberty, said he couldn’t always leave his business to chase a fire, but said, “If I didn’t have an excuse not to go, I was headed to the fire station.” He said it would take a pretty important meeting with a customer to keep him from running down the block to the fire station.
Miller, soon to be 63, served as assistant chief/medical officer for 10 years in the 1990’s. He does remember a lot of fires and emergency ambulance calls, especially on I-80, where he said about 50 percent of the calls involved accidents on the major highway.
He said the worst event he ever witnessed was an early morning anhydrous leak at the West Liberty Foods plant in 2004 when most of the town had to be evacuated, most residents moved to the high school building.
He realized the seriousness of the situation when answering an ambulance call, a local resident passing out when grabbing his local newspaper that morning. “I took a whiff and knew we had a serious problem,” Miller said.
Caused by a valve malfunction, the Sunday morning leak involved response from four different area fire departments, the EPA, DNR and the incident involved the Muscatine County and West Liberty Foods Hazmat teams.
He said another memorable incident came when he was running an errand to the city hall, finding a group asking for help for a man who was having a heart attack near West Liberty State Bank, driving his car up onto the curb. Miller said he took control of the situation, having someone call for emergency help despite the fact there weren’t cell phones in those days and then running down to the fire department to get an ambulance to give the man help with a defibrillator, shocking him back to life. “I got him back,” Miller said, noting, “Everything went right that day. It was very rewarding.”
Miller said he would tell fellow fire fighters even 20 years ago that when he reached 60 years of age, he would retire, noting he’s leaving on “good terms” and will miss all the people he worked with through the years, although noting he won’t miss “getting up at 2:30 in the morning when it’s 20 below,” noting although it was difficult to get out of a warm bed on those calls, it realized the importance of his mission. “It’s sorta what I went by,” said Miller, noting he became “very close” to first responder peers.
“I enjoyed my time,” he said, noting he looks forward to continuing to support the fire department “whenever I can.”
Sickles encouraged residents to “thank” Miller for his service when they might see him walking down the street with a skip in his step. “Thank Larry for his dedication and his willingness to do whatever was needed to have a positive outcome,” sickles said. “Thank Larry for all his sleepless nights in 33 years and for climbing out of bed in stride, throwing clothes on and heading out the door to man the ambulance or a fire truck.”
Sickles said the dedicated first responder and Iowa State Cyclone fan will be missed by all his “brothers and sisters” at the West Liberty Fire Department and those throughout this community. “You will be missed. A void that will always be a void! We hope you stay in touch,” Sickles said. “ As we say in military talk, ‘thanks for having our six!’ We salute you!”