At last... A good night’s sleep
After 30 years, Manitou fire volunteer enjoying retirement

       If emergency calls would only occur during normal waking hours, George Miller might never have left the Manitou Springs Volunteer Fire Department.
       But after 30 years and more than 1,300 calls, no one knows better than the former deputy chief and long-time captain that fires and medicals just don't happen that way.
       “One of the reasons I left is so they could bring on a younger guy to replace me,” he told the Westside Pioneer - “someone who will be willing to get up in the middle of the night and go. I've kind of lost interest in doing that over the last few years.”
       Miller became what is known as a “retired member” at the end of 2003.. which basically means he gets to keep chowing down at the monthly dinner meeting at the station. “I've had 30 years of not cooking on the last Tuesday of the month,” joked Miller, ever ready with a quip.
       Another joke: “Now that I've stopped working, I'm finally getting paid.”
       It's actually true. Manitou fire volunteers are eligible to draw a pension once they reach 20 years of service and age 55. Miller served 10 years extra on both counts, being age 65 and having served since 1973.
        He saw plenty of change during his years at the station. The professionalism of the department has improved, he said, with increased training, and the equipment has improved, including protective gear and communication devices. But the most noticeable change has been the kinds of calls the department gets.
       “The bulk of them now are medical,” Miller said. “In the early days, that was a sideline. People call us all the time now for medical help.”
       Finding replacements historically has not been a problem for the Manitou department, which now numbers about 35 people. “There's generally a waiting list,” Miller said.
       Not surprisingly, his most vivid memories are of major fires. At the top of that list is the Cliff House blaze in 1982. Miller said he's still amazed that the conflagration, which all but destroyed the historic hotel, started from just one cigarette that someone lit one night, then fell asleep.
       “It (the fire) managed to move through a space under the floor and up through the walls,” Miller said. “Once it got to the attic, there was no stopping it.”
       That fire was also the occasion of his closest call as a volunteer. Inside the building, below the attic, he was talking with two other captains about how to fight the fire when there was suddenly a “flashover”- a smoldering area exploding into flame.
       The flashover occurred when three volunteers opened an attic door near the top of the stairs. The three suffered serious burns; “I felt it on the back of my neck,” said Miller, who was standing at the base of the stairs.
        He also had some interesting rescues of people stuck in area caves, he recalled, adding wryly that “most of the ones I did occurred before we were certified to do cave rescues.”
       Although Miller has no worries that the department will get along fine without him, he said his most useful contribution over the years was basically that he's “been here forever.” A lifelong resident, former mayor and multi-property landlord, he could be useful when smoke from a fire reduced visibility inside a building, by knowing room layouts.
        One time, in a house fire, he astonished fellow volunteers by even knowing where specific furniture was located. It helped, he noted, that it was his neighbor's house and he just visited there the day before.
        Miller doesn't expect to be bored in his retirement. He is operations coordinator and former vice president of the Colorado Trail Foundation, and is also a member of the Intemann Trail Committee. His properties keep him busy, and his wife, Lila, helps him come up with fix-it ideas for their house from time to time.
       Not that hearing a fire siren won't affect him. “After 30 years of always being on call, it's hard to let go entirely,” he said.

Westside Pioneer article