MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Fire Department has announced that J. Michael Roberts, its longtime Chief, is retiring on April 1.
Chief Roberts, Mike to his friends and colleagues, has served the department with distinction for well over 35 years. A lifelong Millburn resident, he joined the Fire Department as a volunteer at the age of 18 and served in that role for five years. After a brief stint as a City of East Orange Police Officer, he joined the Department as a career firefighter in 1981 and never looked back.
“It was a different world back then,” he said. “These days, we're legally required to be inside the cab of the fire engine, wearing seat belts, but I'm sure many of us still remember the sight of several firefighters standing on the tailboard as we went out on calls.”
Roberts rose through the ranks of the Department earning a B.S. in Fire Safety Administration from New Jersey City University in 1991, and serving in the posts of Fire Captain and Battalion Chief, before being promoted to the post of Fire Chief in March 2003. Since then Roberts has personally spearheaded a wide variety of efforts designed to improve the safety of both Department members and community residents, as well as to enhance New Jersey's preparedness for an emergency or disaster.
The Millburn Fire Department is among ten local departments, along with the Port Authority Police Emergency Service, that comprise the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) Metro Strike Team. The Team is intended to provide an initial response to major collapse incidents in Essex and the surrounding counties. Millburn firefighters receive state-funded special training as part of this initiative.
Roberts also serves as Millburn Township's Emergency Management Coordinator and is equally proud of programs he has started within the department itself. “We've made a lot of great progress in the past decade,” he said. “For example, I started a health and wellness program for our firefighters, which is now in its tenth year. We also launched a successful home-fire safety inspection program, in which we provide a free attic-to-basement inspection of community homes while providing fire prevention and safety tips. To date, we've visited more than 100 homes in Millburn and Short Hills.”
A decorated veteran of firefighting, Chief Roberts has won numerous awards throughout his career, including Outstanding Service and Humanitarian awards from the Saint Barnabas Burn Foundation, of which he is a Trustee. He is also a longtime member and past president of both the Essex County Fire Chief's Association and N.J. Career Fire Chief's Association.
Though Roberts looks forward to retirement and spending more time with his wife of 30 years, MaryEllen, and their three children, he has no plans to completely leave the workforce anytime soon.
“I'll be taking a break, and then looking for local opportunities in the private sector,” he said. “I'll also continue to remain active in causes that are important to me, such as serving as a counselor at the Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp in Connecticut.” Roberts has volunteered at the 176-acre camp, which provides summer activities at no cost for young burn survivors from around the world, for the past 14 years.
Roberts will be succeeded in the role of Fire Chief by Administrative Battalion Fire Chief Robert Echavarria, who has served with the Department for more than 25 years.
“I'm proud to have served alongside Chief Echavarria, and I have every confidence that the Department will continue to grow and flourish under his capable leadership,” Roberts said.
“On behalf of the Millburn Fire Department and the Township, I would like to congratulate Chief Roberts on his well-deserved retirement, and to acknowledge his decades of distinguished service,” added Echavarria. “His hard work has contributed significantly to the safety and prosperity of our community, its residents, and their families.”