Long Beach City Council appoints fire commissioner amid praise and critique

The Long Beach City Council swears in, from left, Director of OEM Scott Kemins, Fire Commissioner Joseph Miller, Police Inspector Michael Corbett and Police Commissioner Richard DePalma. // Photo by Michael Zavatsky/Long Island Advocate

By Michael Zavatsky

Members of the Long Beach City Council recently voted to reappoint Joseph Miller as commissioner of the city’s fire department. Miller, a career firefighter for over 30 years and former chief of the Long Beach Fire Department, has served as commissioner since 2021. 

Before the 4-1 vote, several individuals expressed excitement and concern, while Miller shared that he is eager to “return to my position and continue doing the best that I can for the community.”

A variety of opinions came from residents, firefighters and police officers who packed the room for Miller’s appointment. Catherine Lewis, the first female paid firefighter in Long Beach history, expressed her dissatisfaction with changes made to the department during Miller’s time as chief. “Even during the fire department restructuring,” Lewis said, it was “a failed project that led to the overtime crisis of the last two years.”

Lewis told members of the council that it was the orders and changes implemented by Miller that have led to understaffing. She also detailed how the orders changed how firefighters operate on site, with engines being stripped of team members or ambulances to respond to multiple emergencies. With already limited resources and staffing, Lewis asked the council to reconsider its motion to appoint Miller.

Members of the Long Beach Fire Department did note that while overtime hours have slowly been decreasing across the station due to new hires, new-employee pay is unacceptable. “Personnel are filling in those spots at $20 an hour… [while] New York City just posted for lifeguards $22 an hour, part-time job,” said Bryan Jones, treasurer of the Long Beach Professional Fire Fighters. 

Volunteers and employees at the department are concerned that the station will not reach a more physically sustainable level if new hires, though properly trained, are underpaid and overworked. Jones claimed that of the 33 salary personnel in the fire department budget this year, only 19 individuals will be working. It is up to those firefighters through overtime to make up the work and hours.

The Long Beach City Council heard comments from the public on Joseph Miller’s appointment. From left were Council Member Michael Reinhart, Member Chris Fiumara, President Finn, Member Roy Lester and Member John Bendo. // Photo by Michael Zavatsky/Long Island Advocate

There were also several voices celebrating Miller and the work he has done in Long Beach for decades. James Hodge, a Democrat who ran for the Long Beach City Council last year, told the members that Miller is an “all-around great guy, he makes sure everyone has a voice and a seat at the table.” Miller has a generational drive in the Long Beach Fire Department with his father and grandfather both serving as volunteer firefighters. 

On top of advancements to bring the department and membership up to state and national standards, Miller’s goal in his appointment is to bring more visions and plans forward to ensure the safety and benefit of residents. Members of the police department, including President of the Long Beach Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association Nick Rooney, also spoke highly of their past experiences with Miller and their future expectations of him. Miller’s example of dedication and rising through the ranks is one that many in the community admire and support. 

City Council President Brendan Finn said the council will hear complaints from anyone who has them, but the council also has a responsibility to appoint a fire commissioner. Despite one dissenting vote, Miller was re-appointed to his position of commissioner of the Long Beach Fire Department.