Deputy Fire Marshal Key to Fire Sprinkler Victories in Washington State
Randy Miller has always had a vested interest in saving lives. From his beginnings as a paramedic with Buck Medical Services in Portland, Oregon, all the way to his current 15-year career as deputy fire marshal in the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal’s Office in Camas, Washington, Miller has demonstrated time and again his enthusiasm for fire and life safety. While he has had many impressive accomplishments in his long career, the American Fire Sprinkler Association (AFSA) is proud to honor him as Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year for his consistent efforts to ensure that fire sprinklers are installed in Camas homes.
Miller was born in Florence, Oregon and raised in the city of Gladstone, a suburb of Portland. He is passionate about the Pacific Northwest. “I love to be out in it, hiking and golfing and kayaking,” says Miller. “You can be at the coast in an hour and the mountains in an hour.” However, like many recent high school graduates, in 1977 Miller was looking for a change. He left Oregon and traveled to Nampa, Idaho to attend college at Northwest Nazarene University. Nampa, right outside of Boise, was a big change from his home city of Portland, with a sugar beet factory on one end of town and a meat processing plant on the other. After three years studying business administration and physical education at Northwest Nazarene University, Miller returned home to Oregon the summer after his junior year ready for a change. His brother mentioned to him that the Portland Fire Bureau (PFB) was hiring, and Miller took a chance and applied.
The PFB test involves a written exam, a physical agility test, and an oral interview, and at the end of it all Miller scored quite high. But only 12 of the 100 potential hires were given positions, and Miller was not one of them. When he learned that one of the requirements for working at the PFB was to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), he enrolled in an EMT course. Miller discovered that he loved emergency medicine, and he went on to earn his paramedic degree.
After getting his degree, Miller went to work for the premier ambulance service Buck Medical Services in Portland. The job provided a large amount of exposure to a wide variety of 911 calls. Miller responded to calls from executives in high-rise buildings collapsing from cardiac arrest, to drug overdoses in the clubs of downtown Portland, and, of course, to many fires. “Once, I started an IV in a house fire burn victim’s arm,” says Miller. “I remember the vein being in the open, as the skin had sloughed away. This, of course, would remain ingrained in my memory for years to come when I discovered what could and should have prevented the traumatic burn victim’s circumstances: residential sprinklers.”
As he worked for Buck Medical Services, he continued to take fire department tests, hoping to find a fire department nearby that was hiring. In 1991, he was golfing with a Vancouver firefighter who happened to mention that the City of Camas Fire Department was hiring paramedic firefighters. Miller tested in Camas, Washington, and got the job.
“It was an awesome change, coming to a small community where people are very friendly and wave at you,” says Miller. “In the five years [that I worked] in Portland, I transported one person that I knew. In Camas, I became involved in the community. I attended Grace Foursquare Church, the largest church in town, so I ended up helping and transporting many people that I would come to know as friends.”
Miller worked there for several years and enjoyed it greatly, but he was committed to consistent self-improvement and continued to pursue educational opportunities. He attended several two-week courses at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland – courses such as Plan Review, Systems and Structures, Fire Inspection Principles, Fire Investigation, and more. He also attended a year-long Building Codes class in Portland and obtained his ICC (International Code Council) certification. “I did everything I could to prepare myself,” says Miller, “and then in 2001, when an opening became available, I tested for the deputy fire marshal position and got hired. And I’ve been in this position ever since.”
In 2012 the City of Camas and the City of Washougal merged their fire departments to become the Camas-Washougal Fire Marshal’s Office, run by the City of Camas and charged with the responsibility of fire code enforcement and fire investigation in both cities. As the department grew, Miller began to take on more responsibility. His primary role has been plan review on systems and structures, as well as code review and issuing permits and conducting inspections on those systems and structures. He also conducts fire investigations and existing occupancy inspections, whenever possible.
Miller began to learn the value of residential fire sprinklers when he was just a few years into his new position as deputy fire marshal. “It’s an educational process,” says Miller. “Of course as a firefighter I had been exposed to commercial sprinklers, and of course we have a long history in the U.S. of protecting our stuff, with life safety becoming somehow secondary. But it didn’t take long to see the value of protecting lives with residential sprinklers.”
Indeed, it did not take long at all. Soon after his appointment, Miller began to lead the department in fire sprinkler advocacy.
When new homes were built and the builders installed sprinklers, Miller and his colleagues would be present at the open houses to point out the installation. “We would be in the garage at those open houses with a display and we would talk to people as they came out of the house and point out the sprinklers,” says Miller. “We would walk them back inside, show them the flat-cap sprinkler head. They expected to see these ugly sprinkler heads and got a pleasant surprise.”
Public education played a large part in what Miller and his colleagues accomplished. Every time they had a fire department open house, they would work to educate both the public and the home builders, setting up tables with home fire sprinkler kits, pictures of sprinklers, and 13 years of side-by-side live fire sprinkler demonstrations. In 2003, they attempted to push a fire sprinkler ordinance through city council.
“The building industry came out in droves,” says Miller. “They got the Vancouver Housing Authority to step up and speak against sprinklers, and they got realtors to come in and speak against sprinklers. We had momentum for awhile, but the building industry mounted enough opposition to kill the deal.”
But out of that, Miller and his colleagues came up with an idea. They sat down with builders and developers to figure out ways to develop land that could usually be a challenge to build on because of fire access needs and other issues.
“We came up with compromises,” Miller explains. “We told them, you can have narrower streets in your subdivision, if you sprinkler it. You can have one way in, if you sprinkler it. You can have a gated community, if you sprinkler it. You can have steeper slopes or longer dead end roads or less hydrants, but you have to sprinkler the entire subdivision.”
Miller’s supervisor, Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher, was especially impressed with Miller’s ability to get sprinklers in one- and two-family homes. “He did it by working with the builders, city officials and community leaders in finding ways that were a win-win to all participants,” says Schumacher. “Smaller street widths, increasing the distance between hydrants, no additional system development fees for larger meters, and the requirement of no backflow devices helped in keeping costs down and making these life- and property-saving systems affordable.”
And it worked. For 10 years, Miller was consistently able to get a very high percentage of new homes built with sprinklers. Even without an ordinance, 98 percent of homes in Camas and Washougal were being built with fire sprinklers, because developers wanted those deals.
Then, in 2016, Camas City Council Member Greg Anderson proposed that the department once again put forth a sprinkler ordinance, and this time it passed. The vote was unanimous, and all residential structures in Camas-Washougal are now required to be built with fire sprinklers.
Everyone who worked with Miller to get that legislation passed was quick to say how dedicated he was to the cause, especially Councilman Anderson.
“Randy’s depth of knowledge of the fire sprinkler topic, persistence, tireless number of hours of effort, attention to detail, and willingness to work with the builder/development interests in educating them, paid off when Camas adopted a 100 percent residential sprinkler ordinance,” says Councilman Anderson. “While working through the number of years it took to build council consensus, he remained cheerful and optimistic at all times. He never made it personal, but you could tell it was at the top of his professional goals. He wanted the city to adopt [residential fire sprinklers] for the safety of the residents, as well as the firefighters and first responders.”
The admiration that Council Member Anderson has for Miller is mutual. “Greg was instrumental in helping us move forward, as was the Mayor and every other council member that supported him,” says Miller. “It was a 16-year process, and there were a lot of painful blows along the way. I had builders and developers go after my job, scream at me on the phone… there were some traumatic times over the years, so it was a very emotional day for me when it was a unanimous vote at the council meeting. It was a very rewarding day.”
Fire Marshal Ron Schumacher has known Miller for over 10 years and has been his supervisor for five. He is quick to give Miller credit for all the work he has done to keep Camas and Washougal safe. “Randy, with the assistance of other staff members, has overseen the installation of over 2,000 residential sprinkler system,” says Schumacher. “Not bad for a community of 20,000 people. Without Randy’s perseverance this would not have been accomplished.”
Given how much of himself he puts into making his hometown safer, it should be no surprise that Miller is deeply involved in his local community personally as well as professionally. He is active in his church and serves as a board member for the local Pathways Pregnancy Center. He regularly hosts family events at his home, like his mother’s recent 90th birthday party. “I love being part of the community,” says Miller. “I really have a sense of ownership when it comes to this community. That’s why pushing for sprinklers was a no-brainer.”
Since Miller began his work, four homes in the Camas-Washougal area have had fires that were controlled by residential sprinklers. He is already seeing the impact of his efforts, and the results are gratifying. In addition, he has seen the pendulum of public perception swing from skepticism or even horror at the thought of home fire sprinklers, to recognition and approval. Because of the years of effort that Deputy Fire Marshal Randy Miller put into making residential fire sprinklers a reality in his community, he is able to rest easy knowing he has kept thousands of people safe.
Tracy V. Moore, president of Moore Fire Protection in Issaquah, Washington, met Miller through their mutual involvement with the Washington Residential Fire Sprinkler Coalition. Moore admits that as a fire sprinkler contractor working on the opposite end of Miller’s jurisdiction, it’s unusual that he knows Miller at all. “However, Randy’s name kept coming up over and over as someone who really thought outside the box and figured out creative ways to get his community protected with fire sprinklers,” remembers Moore. “It worked. Camas, Washington now has an ordinance. But for years, even when they did not, most everyone thought that they did, because almost every house that was built in Camas was fully sprinklered, thanks to the tenacity, ingenuity, and creativity of Randy Miller.”
AFSA’s Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year award was created to honor individuals not directly involved in the fire sprinkler industry whose efforts have had national impact in advancing life safety and property protection through the use of automatic sprinklers. Each year, AFSA’s Legislative Committee selects a recipient from a pool of nominations, with approval of the AFSA Board of Directors. This year, Miller was nominated by Kraig Kirschner of AFCON in South El Monte, California. “Many in our industry know of Mr. Miller from afar,” says Kirschner. “I am one of those, and from my perspective he is most deserving of this attribution. Randy Miller is a proponent of good fire protection and safe dwellings in spite of any influence to the contrary. Sometimes one must make a stand, though it may be difficult, in support of one’s constituents, one’s customers and one’s conscience.”
AFSA’s Legislative Committee Chair Ted Wills, Jr. was instrumental in selecting Miller for this award, and has only glowing words for him. “We are very pleased to be awarding the AFSA Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year award to Mr. Randy Miller, deputy fire marshal for the city of Camas, Washington,” he says. “Randy’s support of sprinklers has been relentless even in the face of opposition from builders and the real estate groups. His persistence is an example I would hope other fire officials would emulate as we push towards a fully sprinklered America.”
Miller would like everyone to know that if they find themselves in the beautiful city of Camas, they should feel free to stop by his office to talk about residential fire sprinklers, as that is one of his favorite subjects. Miller will be presented with the Fire Sprinkler Advocate of the Year Award during the general session at the AFSA36: Convention, Exhibition & Apprentice Competition at the Bellagio Las Vegas on September 26. Visit firesprinkler.org/convention.