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News of the Town
Fire Chief reappointed after contentious debate

By G. M. Heller
Thursday, July 4, 2002

MONTEREY --  After intense and sometimes contentious debate that stretched over the course of three meetings, two of which were held in executive session, the Selectmen finally voted this past Monday to reappoint Raymond W. Tryon to another one year term as town fire chief.

The unanimous vote to reappoint was made with a notation that the selectmen "would embark on a study of transition of leadership" within the fire department, according to Judith Kales, secretary to the selectmen. 

Yet, according to knowledgeable insiders who have requested anonymity, the selectmen's vote on the matter started out as anything but unanimous. 

At their June 17th meeting, when the matter of the fire chief's annual appointment first came up, selectman Peter S. Brown reportedly was in favor of Mr. Tryon's reappointment while newly elected selectman Jonathan E. Sylbert was leaning against.  Chairwoman Muriel L. Lazzarini withheld her opinion pending further information and debate on the matter.

Crisis of morale within the fire company

The veteran fire chief's reappointment, which in other years has been considered almost a pro forma event for Mr. Tryon, turned into a metaphorical firestorm over allegations, made verbally and via numerous letters to the selectmen, that the department under Mr. Tryon's leadership has for a long time been suffering a crisis of morale that has only gotten worse in recent years.  Mr. Tryon has been at the helm of the town fire department since 1954 -- 48 years.

Former members of the Monterey Fire Company, Ltd. and other townspeople interviewed by allege that too many able-bodied and capable fire company personnel have gotten fed-up with the chief.  They are then either asked to leave the all-volunteer department, or opt to leave of their own accord.

Those interviewed for this article all requested anonymity, but each placed blame squarely on what one referred to as Mr. Tryon's "high-handed, tyrannical management style" as well as the manner in which he has dealt with dissent within the department.  Said another, he is known to treat "shabbily" those with whom he disagrees. 

In the words of another, "When he's good, he's very, very good, but when he's bad, he's horrid." 

The Chief's advancing age seen as a factor 

Former fire company members and others in town also raised concerns about Mr. Tryon's age.  He will be 73 on September 28 (born a month and a day before the 1929 stock market crash). 

In Massachusetts towns that accept state civil service rules, mandatory retirement age for public safety personnel is age 65.  Under home rule, Monterey has never chosen to accept those rules, and thus does not formally fall under the requirement. 

Nonetheless, Mr. Tryon's advancing age is seen by many as an important issue affecting public safety as well as the overall health and esprit de corps of the fire company.

Lake Buel community group refused access to firehouse

A further complaint that precipitated the reappointment debate was brought forth by members of the prudential committee for the Lake Buel Association whose membership alleged verbally and via letters to the selectmen that they were refused permission to hold their annual meeting at the firehouse.

Members allege that the new firehouse was built with donations raised from the community with the clear understanding that the firehouse could serve as a meeting place for the various community groups in Monterey. 

Prudential committee members have usually held the group's annual meetings at the firehouse in one of the rooms used for such purposes.  One recent Saturday in May though, upon arriving at the building for their scheduled annual meeting, members were surprised to find the building locked. 

The group was soon informed by fire company officials that access was being denied to them and that committee members would have to hold this year's gathering someplace else. Apparently, no reason was given. 

Appearing before the selectboard on behalf of the prudential committee, committee member Daniel Andrus formally complained to the selectmen about the fire company's refusal to provide the Lake Buel committee reasonable access to the firehouse for a bona fide community meeting.  Mr. Andrus is no stranger to the fire company and its operations, having been a long-time volunteer with the department.  At the time of his departure from the company, he had achieved the status of second-in-command to Mr. Tryon.

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