Fire police help relieve pressure on cops

May 02, 1999

Fire Police: James MillerBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

James Miller said when he was growing up in Hagerstown his father would often jokingly tell him to go out and play on the street.

"He never dreamed I would take him up on it," Miller said.

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The Hagerstown City Fire Police sergeant can be seen on the city streets regularly, controlling crowds and directing traffic.

Miller, 32, started out as a volunteer fire policeman about two years ago after reading about the program in the Herald-Mail.

Laid off from work with a knee injury, he was looking for a way to fill up his hours and serve the public.


"It kept me busy and exercised my knee," he said.

Miller kept with it after returning to his job as a truck driver and goes on about 10 to 15 police calls a month.

Added to that are about five to 10 scheduled events he works, such as directing traffic for performances at the Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown.

Miller said being a fire policeman is exciting because each call is different and challenging.

"It might seem like they're all the same, but they're not," he said. "At an accident, you have to evaluate how the intersection comes together and decide how to block it off. It's a learning process and each time you evaluate what you did and could have done."

Miller said that directing traffic is not as easy as it looks. He has almost been hit by cars numerous times and had drivers run over his cones and flares. He often receives the brunt of motorists' frustration when they are told they have to be detoured.

"I've got a lot of fans," he said jokingly.

"You just have to brush it off. You're a public servant, so you can't be nasty back," he said.

At crime scenes, Miller's responsibility is to prevent people from getting too close.

"He hasn't been a member long but he's already a supervisor. He sets a good example and is dedicated," said Lt. Gary Spielman, who oversees the fire police.

Spielman said he is looking for more fire police officers like Miller.

Applicants must be 21 years old and have a valid license. They must have a good driving record and a clean criminal history, he said.

Participants complete an initial 16 hours of training and then another eight hours each year to stay current, he said.

The 15-member fire police department has been under the direction of the Hagerstown City Police since 1983, he said. Fire police headquarters is at 28 W. Church St.

From Nov. 1, 1997 to Oct. 1, 1998, city fire police responded to 1,183 calls, Spielman said.

He said the police department saves about $1,000 a year by having fire police direct traffic and control crowds.

"Without them we'd have to do it," he said.

Spielman said the fire police are vital to the police department.

"They work very hard for us. They come out any time during the day or night. It takes a special breed of person to get out of a warm bed to direct traffic," he said.

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