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Firefighter mentored future generations

Ben Schmitt
| Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
John V. Miller
John V. Miller

One of the first instructors at the Allegheny County Fire Academy, John V. Miller dedicated the bulk of his life to fighting fires.

“Other than his family, this was his passion,” said Miller's granddaughter and caretaker, Megan Petrelli. “He lived to fight fires.”

Miller, known to many as “Jack,” died in his Ross home Tuesday of natural causes. He was 89.

He lost his wife of 63 years, Catherine Miller, about a year ago, and never truly recovered emotionally, his granddaughter said.

“This may sound funny, but he died of a broken heart,” she said. “They were together for so long. He just wasn't the same without her.”

In his heyday, Miller was a firefighter at the Quaill Volunteer Fire Department in Ross, where he became chief. He also worked for the West View Fire Department. Before getting a paid position at the fire academy, he worked on the grounds crew at North Park.

Born on Pittsburgh's North Side, he initially worked as a window cleaner, once surviving a nine-story fall from a building, and delivered ice and coal before becoming a firefighter.

“He was tough, truly tough,” Petrelli said.

In 1977, he took a job as an instructor at the Allegheny County Fire Academy, remaining there until he retired in 1990.

He was born with a severe cataract that left him blind in his left eye, but that never deterred him, Petrelli said.

“He really fought hard for his positions,” she said. “It meant so much to him. Even after he retired, he used to help judge the fire truck arrangements in local parades. He couldn't let it go.”

Brad McLean, who has worked at Quaill Volunteer Fire Department for 43 years, said Miller had a stellar reputation.

“He was a very enthusiastic and excellent instructor at the academy,” McLean said. “He was very hands on and always had a smile on his face. He was well-known throughout the county. I never know of anyone who spoke badly about Jack.”

Posted on the Quaill VFD's Facebook page is a note that reads, “FINAL CALL for late member and past chief Jack Miller. You will be greatly missed by many. But never forgotten!”

Miller is survived by a son, Vincent Miller; a daughter, Deborah Petrelli; six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Maureen Mellon.

A service was held Friday in St. Athanasius Church in West View.

In lieu of flowers, family suggests all contributions to the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children, 201 N. Bellefield Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Please leave condolences at

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or

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