Jonesboro Fire Chief Kevin Miller had been looking for the opportunity.
In recent weeks, he found it.
Miller, 57, announced his retirement, effective June 30, first to those who have been his most relied upon leaders over the past decade. After 10 years as chief and upward of 35 in the Jonesboro Fire Department, Miller is looking forward to a uniform that might require fewer buttons and more tennis shoes.
A lifetime Jonesboro resident who spent a career putting others first, Miller is ready to focus a little more attention on his most immediate loved ones, starting with his wife Rhonda.
“We want to do some things with our kids and our grandkids,” said Miller, who has three adult children and four grandchildren. “There have been sacrifices, and my wife and family have been willing to endure those sacrifices. It’s time they become my fulltime focus.”
Miller will be remembered by his City of Jonesboro teammates as a quiet leader who made preparation and safety his constant priority.
“It has been a pleasure and an honor to watch Chief Miller lead his department,” Mayor Harold Copenhaver said. “I recognized quickly how well he manages a large and complex department with some of the most critical responsibilities a city can have.
“I also admired his respectful and diligent advocacy for his department. He brought all the qualities a mayor can ask from a fire chief.”
Copenhaver said Miller’s successor will be named in short order.
Miller said he is retiring to spend time with family but the timing is good because the department is in good shape and in good hands with the Copenhaver administration.
“I think the fire department is poised for great things in the future,” Miller said. “We have a great base with very good people. The challenge is always keeping up with the growth the city is experiencing, but I feel good about the support of the mayor’s administration and his commitment to public safety, and I believe that will continue.”
While the number of lives saved during Miller’s time as chief remains uncalculated, one number is known by most of Jonesboro home and business owners: a Class 1 Insurance Services Office rating. It keeps property insurance prices lower, and Jonesboro was among the first of less than 10 fire departments in Arkansas with such status.
Miller credited that to adding personnel, building new stations in locations to meet Jonesboro’s expanding neighborhoods, equipment upgrades, and an important partner: City Water and Light.
“CWL increased their water flow in our water supply, and they have been the best partner a City can have,” Miller said. “CWL has been fabulous for us.”
Former Assistant Fire Chief Alan Dunn said Miller created policies and practices that helped transform the department into its current iteration.
“He instituted several programs, like the physical fitness initiative, that gave incentive to ensure everyone was in the best physical condition,” said Dunn, who retired two years ago. “The thought was ‘We’re a professional organization, so we need to be professional.’
“It was about not only strength and stamina, but it gave confidence to the guys that they could do certain things.”
Current Assistant Chief Marty Hamrick said it was Miller’s encouragement and instruction that motivated him to much up in rank.
“Coming up through the ranks, I was always happy just to be where I was,” Hamrick said. “Firefighting, sitting in the back of the rig, and Chief Miller was always pushing me, saying, ‘You need to be thinking about the next level.’ Without him pushing me, I might be riding the back of that rig.”
Hamrick said Miller was the consummate professional as not only a chief, but in his early career as a shift commander.
“I knew if Chief Miller told me to go into whatever section of a house, he had my back and would look out for whatever could wrong,” Hamrick said.
Miller was inspired to join the JFD by watching his father serve as on the volunteer fire department growing up in the Philadelphia community. He said his early days as a firefighter were exhilarating, but as he grew into leadership, he became less excited to hear the alarms.
“I like dull and boring,” he said. “When I was young, I liked the excitement, the challenge, and the fact that this is truly a job where every day you get to help someone.
“As a chief, no drama means people are not having a bad day. When that alarm goes off, that means someone is having a bad day.”
The job has changed through the years. In 2022, firefighters do a lot more than fight fires.
“We have put much bigger emphasis on the medical aspect,” Miller said. “It’s been a growing trend for the past 15-plus years. Even the increased calls for a variety of things – medical, HAZMAT, specialized rescue – we’ve branched out into so many areas.”
When he relaxes with Rhonda and chases the grandkids around the park, he will reflect on a career well done and a life well lived.
“It’s great not ever having to have a real job,” he said. “I get to play fireman. How cool is that?”
Press Release – City of Jonesboro