As close as brothers: Two Marco Island firefighters celebrate 30 years on Marco

Division Chief Scott Schultz, left, and Deputy Chief Chris Byrne share their experiences over 30 years with the Marco Island Fire Department. In many ways, the two men are similar, finding family and a sense of purpose in the fire station atmosphere. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

Division Chief Scott Schultz, left, and Deputy Chief Chris Byrne share their experiences over 30 years with the Marco Island Fire Department. In many ways, the two men are similar, finding family and a sense of purpose in the fire station atmosphere. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

Celebrating 30 years with Marco Island’s Fire Department, Division Chief Scott Schultz and Deputy Chief Chris Byrne share their experiences with the Marco Eagle. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

Celebrating 30 years with Marco Island’s Fire Department, Division Chief Scott Schultz and Deputy Chief Chris Byrne share their experiences with the Marco Eagle. Cheryl Ferrara/Eagle Correspondent

On Sept.11, 2009, Deputy Chief Chris Byrne wins the Marco Island Firefighter of the Year award presented by Chief Mike Murphy. Cheryl Ferrara/File

On Sept.11, 2009, Deputy Chief Chris Byrne wins the Marco Island Firefighter of the Year award presented by Chief Mike Murphy. Cheryl Ferrara/File

Division Chief Scott Schultz, left, and Marco Island Fire Rescue Foundation member Steve Stefanides share thoughts on Sept. 20, 2007, during an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the arrival of a new fire truck. Cheryl Ferrara/File

Division Chief Scott Schultz, left, and Marco Island Fire Rescue Foundation member Steve Stefanides share thoughts on Sept. 20, 2007, during an open house and ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the arrival of a new fire truck. Cheryl Ferrara/File

Marco Island’s Deputy Chief Chris Byrne, third from left, and Division Chief Scott Schultz, to the right of Byrne, stand with New York City firefighters after a 9-11 Memorial Service in 2003. Submitted

Marco Island’s Deputy Chief Chris Byrne, third from left, and Division Chief Scott Schultz, to the right of Byrne, stand with New York City firefighters after a 9-11 Memorial Service in 2003. Submitted

— Deputy Chief Chris Byrne and Division Chief Scott Schultz have a lot in common.

They were both hired by the Marco Island Fire Department on the same day, albeit two years apart. They both share the same birthday, Dec. 1.

More importantly, they have remained with the Marco Island Fire Department for 30-plus years to see more growth and change than any successors will ever imagine. Schultz joined the department in 1981 when he was 21 years old. Byrne came to the force at 20 in 1983. Schultz was the 17th person ever hired by the department.

“As the community grew, we grew,” Byrne remembered. “We were at a time and place that was taking off.”

Both men came to Marco trained as firefighter/EMTs. They bunked together in the old Station 50 building on South Barfield Drive.

“The island was different. For example, the Marriott only had one tower,” said Schultz. “It was quieter, very seasonal. We were young and clearly in the minority.”

The department worked with 16 firefighters, 2 engines (one at Station 50 and one at Elkcam Circle’s Station 51) and a Quick Response Vehicle that looked more like a tank. A resident donated a Zodiac to assist with offshore rescues.

All 16 firefighters were required to live on the island. It was a small and close group, Byrne and Schultz remembered. The duo and buddies enjoyed an unspoiled outdoors with fishing and beautiful Tigertail Beach.

“Back then, Tigertail was the beach. There was no sandbar or lagoon. The beachhead was beautiful,” Schultz recalled.

The small fire department had its challenges. The closest assisting crew had to travel from Golden Gate City, and the Marco unit was responsible for everything between Marco Island and the Dade County line.

“In a full year, we responded to about as many calls as we do now in three months of season,” Schultz said. “I remember doing CPR by myself while I was on the phone trying to give another fire department directions. We just didn’t have cell phones and radio systems like we do today.”

Protocols in medical emergencies differed, too.

“We were still doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and didn’t even wear medical gloves,” Schultz said. “Healthcare was evolving.”

Health and safety standards were not codified until seven years after his hire.

As time went by, Byrne and Schultz chose different paths. Schultz remained a shift worker while Byrne moved into a 40-hour workweek. In both cases, life in the firehouse made their careers much more than a job.

“You know what’s cool about this?” Byrne asked. “The coolest thing about being a firefighter is the fact that we are like family. I was here to see them (other firefighters) get married. I was here when their children were born and to see those same children get married.”

Schultz agreed.

“There’s no other job like it. We eat together. We work side-by-side as a team, and we deal with triumph and tragedy together.”

But as close as the two chiefs are, their personalities differ. While Byrne is quick to use emotional words like “cool,” Schultz is introspective.

“We’re here to serve in a variety of ways, but we get something out of it emotionally. When I drive over the bridge to report for my shift, I say: ‘This is my 48-hours.’ I call it the invisible yoke of responsibility.”

“On duty, I like to have fun but there’s an edge there,” Byrne added. “That’s when we have to be all business and no nonsense.”

After years of mentoring and leadership, Byrne and Schultz look forward to a time when they can retire. They will qualify for benefits under the category of “occupations with special risk.” But that day is still down the road and will not come before they touch a few more lives.

“We were here at that time and place when Marco was being put on the map,” Schultz said. “In our generation this department has gone further and faster than any generation will see.”

Fire Chief Mike Murphy echoed those sentiments.

“We have been especially blessed because Deputy Chief Byrne and Division Chief Schultz help establish the department from the beginning into the great organization it is today. Like family, they stayed with it and saw it through the good times and the hard times. Seeing them celebrate 30 years is wonderful, I am very proud of them, and they are among the best that I have had the pleasure of working with.”

For Byrne and Schultz, being a firefighter on Marco Island will forever stand in their minds. As the two men talked, a call from Collier County’s dispatch center blared from their radios and from a speaker on the wall. They listened, stone still, to see if they should swing into action.

The call was not for their station this time, and they settled back into their chairs.

“All we can really do is leave the department in a better place then when we started, so others can carry on,” they agreed.

As their radios blared a second time and the station came alive with the rush of feet on the corridor outside, the “invisible yoke of responsibility” became all too evident.

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