Haines takes the reins from Miller as Altamont fire chief

The Enterprise — Sean Mulkerrin
Present and future: Kyle Haines, right, will take over for Paul Miller as Altamont’s fire chief at the start of the new year.

ALTAMONT — Paul Miller has been fighting fires for 37 years — longer than the 33 years that Kyle Haines has been alive. But age didn’t deter the members of the Altamont Fire Department from voting Haines, who has been in the department for 17 years already, as their next chief to take over from Miller, who is stepping back after four years in the role.

Haines will become chief on Jan. 1. The department is made up entirely of volunteers.

As for why he was stepping back, Miller said, “It was time to take a break.”

He will continue to be a firefighter — like his father, brother, and uncle before him; his sister had been a member of the auxiliary. Miller had a previous five-year run as chief as well. 

Haines, who is currently the department’s first assistant chief, said that “it’s an honor” to be nominated and voted chief by the membership. 

Haines is a lifelong Altamont resident and works as a chimney sweep.

Unlike many firefighters, Haines didn’t follow a parent into the department; rather, a couple of friends encouraged him to join. His grandfather had been a charter member of the Westmere Fire Department, Haines said, but he didn’t know that when he joined the department in 2002.

As a young guy, Haines was asked why take on the added responsibility of being chief. First, he said, he loves the department, and, second, attrition. “To be blatantly honest about it, we need more people in the fire department,” Haines told The Enterprise.

However, Haines said, the department is working on its recruitment and retention efforts — which have been successful as of late.

Miller said there has been an influx of new members in the past 18 months. 

The department now has close to 40 members, Miller said. 

Haines said that a few experienced firefighters have moved to the area, which is very helpful because the new members don’t have to be sent for training, although they do have to be trained in some of the department’s ways and procedures — but that pales in comparison to all of the hours of training a new recruit would have to go through. 

In addition to live-fire training, new recruits have classroom work and hazardous-material training, as well as training to avoid workplace violence and sexual harassment, Haines and Miller said.

And it’s not even new firefighters; there’s ongoing training for veteran firefighters as well, Haines said.

Training becomes a hindrance insofar as people have joined in the past but when it comes to committing to taking the next step — committing more hours to training — that’s when the department will lose members who won’t take the next step, Haines and Miller said. 

For example, there are different tiers of firefighters, which require different amounts of training. It takes 150 hours of training to become an interior firefighter, to be able go into burning buildings. 

Both Miller and Haines see training as the biggest challenge facing the department in the next few years; in addition to state and national requirements, the sheer amount of time it takes to train new volunteers is becoming onerous.

For a volunteer with a day job and a family, it’s a major commitment. 

Which is why Haines and Miller said they are always recruiting.

What seems to work, Haines said, is just being “there” with, for example, the department’s summer movies-in-the-park series, the Santa stroll, or the department’s garage sale and barbecue. 

Always calling on the department’s volunteers is tough, Haines said, but the more people see them in the community and see that Altamont has a volunteer fire department, the more they tend to want to help. 

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