City Manager Michael McNees knew he had challenges when he undertook the responsibilities as the city’s CEO after he took the job a year ago. However, over the last several weeks he would have to reflect on one of the most important decisions he would have to make since taking on that responsibility. The job of filling the void left by the well-earned retirement would be one of his most important ones of his first year in the corner office.
Fire Chief Michael Murphy had 20 years on the job and is one of the city’s longest-serving department heads. Murphy’s department accounts for almost $7 million of the city’s $22.9 million budget.
Florida has entered the 2020 hurricane season, and although it has been relatively quiet so far, that could change overnight. If and when it does, the men and women of Murphy’s department will be on the frontlines with the other first-responders throughout Florida. The teamwork demonstrated by the city staff under Murphy as the incident commander has received high marks for its pre-event planning, during its landfall and during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
The daunting task before McNees to choose a successor to Murphy had attracted a number of very qualified applicants, but there was one who stood out throughout the interview process.
The initial group of those applications had been reduced to seven. They are from as far away as New York and as close as Marco Island itself.
Chris Byrne, who before retiring from the Marco Island Fire/Rescue Department as its Deputy Chief in 2016, came back to the city during Hurricane Irma in 2017. Since then, he has served in the capacity as the Emergency Management Coordinator. He has overseen the city’s FEMA grant requests as a result of Hurricane Irma and has received accolades for his performance. He has also managed the federally declared COVID-19 disaster’s FEMA needs for the city.
Two other well-known Collier County Fire Service professionals also had had their resumes moved into the hunt. Greater Naples Fire/Rescue Chief Kingman Schuldt, along with Naples Fire Chief Pete DiMaria were in that list of the final seven.
Those in contention included John F. Flynn, who recently retired as the City of Yonkers, N.Y. Assistant Fire Chief after 32 years. Jeffrey Lucas, who holds the rank of Deputy Chief and is the Fire Marshall for the Fort Lauderdale Fire Department. Bruce Angier retired at the rank of Battalion Fire Chief after 26 years with the Boca Raton Fire Department was on the list along with Captain Roderick Moore, a 32-year veteran of the Jacksonville Fire/Rescue Department.
“I think the quality of candidates is indicative of what a great city we have and also speaks to the great job done by Chief Murphy over the 20 years he managed the department,” said McNees.
In the end, McNees called upon Chris Byrne to return to his roots within the Marco Island Fire/Rescue Department. Byrne has worked closely with McNees in the position of Emergency Management Coordinator and has been instrumental in ensuring that the city would receive sizeable grant dollars through FEMA for damages incurred as a result of Hurricane Irma. He has also managed the COVID-19 response from the city and has worked to stay abreast of all the state and federal mandates and opportunities available to the city.
Byrne retired after 33 years with the department in May of 2016, having worked his way through the ranks and assuming the position of Deputy Chief. “The time I spent working alongside Chief Murphy was some of the most enlightening and educational in my career. It gave me a solid foundation to come back ‘home’ once again,” Byrne remarked.
Byrne was hired by the Marco Island Fire District in the fall of 1983 after his graduation from the Fire Academy in Palm Beach County. This was before Marco Island incorporated as a city and took over those responsibilities.
“I knew shortly after entering the academy to get certified that this is what I wanted to do,” said Byrne. “My wife and I came here for vacation in the summer of 1983, and by fate, the department was about to hire four new firefighters. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity, and the rest is history.”
Byrne is also grateful to City Manager McNees for the faith he has placed in him.
“I understand the great honor he’s given to me in regards to being chosen for the job and will do my best not to disappoint him, the men I’ll have the honor to serve with and this wonderful community,” said Byrne on Monday after the announcement of his appointment.
Byrne and his wife Julia live on Marco Island and his son Joseph works in the performing arts business in Chicago.