Knowing what one wants to do at 20 years of age can be both a gift and a terrible burden in life. Some may choose to set their goals to very lofty heights, while others may hope just to survive with no particular aspirations. Others may choose to wait for years before actually focusing on personal career paths, while some choose differing journeys throughout their lifetimes and have the fortunate good luck excelling in varying professional opportunities.
Years ago, a young 18-year-old Chris Byrne left the comfort, security and familiarity of his family home in Dade County Florida to attend college in North Carolina. He was no different than many graduating seniors from high school that year who would leave home to continue their formal education after 12 years of secondary school.
That transition did not seem to interest the now 19-year-old as he would move back to the Miami area and take a job at a local cable company doing installations. Deep in his heart, Byrne knew that this would not be a long-term career path, but it did provide a stable income stream.
During one of his installation assignments, he met a homeowner who was also a local east coast firefighter that spoke to him about his job. The prospects interested Byrne, and after investigating a local fire academy, he later enrolled in their certification program.
After graduation and receipt of his certification, Byrne took a trip to Marco to fish in the waters around the island, and as luck would have it, he became aware of the possible intentions of the department to hire three new recruits. The rest is history as they say, and Byrne began his 33-year career in the fire service in 1983.
“I knew this is what I wanted to do after about the third week in the academy. I just loved the challenges that the job provided. I found what I wanted to do with my life and wanted to take all the advantages that the job offered,” said Byrne.
It would be later in his career here on Marco that Byrne said he would find is “mentor” in Chief Michael Murphy. Murphy had taken the job on Marco after retiring from Miramar, Florida, on the East Coast.
“We just had a synergy between us, which allowed me to grow professionally and personally. I would dare say I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for the guidance and faith that Chief Murphy had shown me,” remarked Byrne.
As Byrne was walking into Station 50 on September 1st on his first official day as the new Chief 50, his former boss, now “officially retired,” was enjoying a long-awaited motorhome trip through the Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks with his wife Barbara.
Byrne assumes command of a well-staffed and equipped department. “Our goal is to continue to exceed the expectations of our residents,” said Byrne. “As I’ve spoken to each shift, I’ve emphasized how proud I am of that. That was something that Chief Murphy was extremely proud of, as is Deputy Chief Batiato who oversees Operations. It is the teamwork that makes that happen on a day to day basis which provides us with such a wonderful reputation within the community.”
Byrne would also stress that maintaining a high level of integrity and ethical convictions within the department is also something that each member is responsible for if they are to maintain the respect and admiration of the community.
When Byrne retired in the Fall of 2016, he would be the first to tell you that it didn’t take long after fishing for about six months and the completion of all of his “honey-do-projects” that he was quickly becoming bored and missed the department. When Hurricane Irma began to bear down upon Southwest Florida, Byrne was called off the bench to assist with planning for and the after-event response to the storm.
Byrne had been filling in the role as the FEMA Liaison and was responsible for mitigation grant applications and the requests for other assistance funding.
“Chris has been an invaluable resource to the city and to myself personally,” said City Manager Michael McNees. “His professionalism and knowledge of the process and the systems has more than paid for itself. His assistance to all our department heads and to the citizenry has been instrumental in returning valuable assets to the entire community.”
When Murphy announced his retirement earlier in 2020, it was no surprise that Byrne’s name would be one of the top contenders. However, the list contained several very outstanding contenders, both locally and nationally.
No one was surprised, however, when City Manager McNees announced that Byrne would return to take over the reins of the 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.
It was a humble Chris Byrne who would respond to the announcement of his appointment. Byrne is also grateful to City Manager McNees for the faith he has placed in him as he stated, “I understand the great honor he’s given to me in regard to being chosen for the job and I will do my best not to disappoint him, the men I’ll have the honor to serve with and the residents this wonderful community.”
Two major challenges, as well as opportunities facing the department, involve the successful launch and completion of the replacement of Station 50. Byrne has been intimately involved in the planning for that project and feels confident regarding it. The City Council at their last meeting approved a contract for the Manager at Risk agreement for building to the new Central Fire Station and Emergency Operations Center.
The second issue involves the challenges facing the city concerning how to handle the issues surrounding increased complaints in regard to Vacation Rentals in single-family home neighborhoods and the related fire and safety challenges regarding the fire/rescue role in assuring citizen safety issues.
Byrne is married to his wife Julia for 28 years. They met when Byrne was a paramedic student and attending classes at NCH where she was a nurse. Their son Joseph is an aspiring actor in Chicago and is a graduate of Columbia College in Chicago