PORT JERVIS, NY – Port Jervis Fire Department firefighter Robert “Bob” J. Mills, who is being honored as one of this year’s PJFD Parade Grand Marshals, is among the volunteers who have responded actively decade-after-decade to diverse emergencies and calls in his hometown region.
Still active after a half-century-plus of service, Mills became a firefighter in September of 1970. He joined a group of family and friends who were already in service, many of whom continue to serve alongside him and other firefighters at present.
Mills was born in Port Jervis on August 22, 1950. His family moved briefly to Montague, NJ for a time, and then back to Port Jervis where he was raised in the Tri-States area of the city. Mills attended Port schools, graduated from PJHS in 1968, and went on to Orange County Community College. He then went to work for local employers, including A&P, Kolmar Labs, and then C&D Batteries for more than 30-years. After C&D closed, he worked for about five years for Orange County Jail in Goshen, and then moved to Florida with his wife Nancy and worked for Walmart.
The couple moved back to the Tri-States area, wanting to be near family when Nancy became ill several years ago. Bob transferred to the local Westfall Walmart, where he has since retired from, and the couple moved to Matamoras, PA. Sadly, Nancy died in 2019.
Throughout his life, except for his time in Florida, Bob has remained active in the company he joined 52-years ago this year, Neversink Engine Co. No. 1. Some of the lifelong friends and company members who were in service with him back then include the other two company grand marshals, Jim Rohner and David Moore. All three remain very active as firefighters, and with Past Chief Dominic Cicalese who is also a grand marshal, have a combined current total of 184-years of service.
Mills recalls his brother, Bill Mills, and brother-in-law, Charles Conkling, as being members in Tri-States Hose Co. No. 6 when he joined. Their firehouse, 6’s, was (and still is) right across from the East Main Street house where he grew up. While he chose to join Neversink Eng. Co., he remembers growing up with firefighters in all of PJFD’s companies.
“Jim Rohner, David Moore, Bob Cade, Dick Bray, Francie May, Jack Shannon, Ray, Dick, and Fred Harding, Rocky Giovanniello, Gary Lopriore, Bob Mason, Paul Fink, Herbie Westfall, Ralph and Frank Schips, Charlie Theodore, Lloyd Rhoades,” Mills quickly recalled of some of the many he served with early-on in PJFD.
He also attended kindergarten at Church Street School and other grade levels, as children, with many of those who later became firefighters. Firefighting is just one level of service some shared as adults, including church, community events, organizational memberships, and other hometown connections.
Some of the past calls that come quickly to mind are Neversink Lumber, Buchanan’s (Barkmann’s), small house fires, many false alarms, the Colonial Inn and New Bauer, and the flood of 1981 and flooding scare of 1982. Mills, an interior firefighter in those days, recalled knowing some of the people who lived in the Colonial Inn at the time it burnt, and it being a very cold, tough fire to fight.
He recalls the flood as being very damaging, and causing a lot of worry.
“I remember going door-door to tell people ‘I’m sorry to say this but it’s getting pretty bad out there, and the water isn’t stopping,” Mills recalled of assisting with evacuation measures and warnings.
Recent calls have continued to present their own challenges, including one this past fall in a historic 72 East Main Street home. Mills was one of those helping with hose lines and other duties as an exterior firefighter, an intense blaze in which interior firefighters were ordered to exit what became a rapidly engulfed, collapsing structure.
“We just couldn’t seem to get it out no matter how hard we tried. It spread through the place,” Mills recalled.
Mills, who has held leadership roles in his company as Vice President, President, Treasurer, Secretary, and now Financial Treasurer and Trustee, encourages anyone who is willing to give a helping hand as a firefighter to do so. He chose to join at age 20 to help his hometown community and as best he was able.
“The more help you have, the better it is,” Mills said. “Just be willing to not only show up but always give the best you can to help everyone out, not just put in the time. It takes a lot of training, and a lot of time spent away from family. You have to be committed to doing the best you can.”
For anyone wishing to do so, there are ways to fit in training by scheduling it around work and family time. There are also always other members willing to help each other. In return, the reward for this time spent is knowing you are able to help save property and lives, including someone who might be trapped or in need of help during major fires and calls.
When he was told by Neversink Eng. Co. No. 1 Captain David Moore, Jr., who is the son of fellow 2022 Grand Marshal David Moore, Sr. and one of the department’s many multi-generational firefighting families, that he would be honored as a grand marshal this year, it made him feel very good.
“I was told ‘you’ve been here for a long time, over 50-years, and we would like you to be a grand marshal’,” Mills recalled of learning of this honor.
Mills will have family members along the parade route as his joins his fellow grand marshals in the escort division of the parade. He is glad to have his stepdaughter Tina, step son-in-law Jamie, sister Mary, and niece Amy among those attending the parade. He will be thinking of them and of all the current and past PJFD firefighters he has served with other these many decades.
How long does he plan to remain a firefighter?
“I plan to stay until the good Lord calls me,” he said.