Award-winning fire prevention officer says he couldn't abide by Beaufort's direction

Former Beaufort Fire Marshal Dan Byrne said that for seven years, he helped build award-winning public-education programs that drew praise from departments throughout South Carolina and across the country.

But when changes in the department began to affect those programs and the department's approach to public safety, he could no longer be part of the department that puts residents and firefighters at risk, according to his resignation letter. Byrne, who worked for the department for 12 years as both a paid and volunteer firefighter, resigned last week.

He won't be unemployed for long, though -- he starts early next month as a firefighter and paramedic for Burton Fire District, according to sources there.

In his resignation letter dated Friday, Byrne indicated concern about what he says is the department's lack of focus on public education and fire prevention programs, stemming from Fire Chief Sammy Negron's decision not to fill a senior fire inspector position and instead hire new regular firefighters.

"I no longer wish to be part of an organization that will direct resources away from a program that ... has been proven to save lives and property," Byrne wrote. "I cannot, in good moral conscience, stand by and watch what was built and perfected over seven years be dismantled, and respond to fires and possibly a death or injury to a civilian or one of our firefighters knowing it may have been prevented if we applied our resources correctly."

Byrne asked in a letter Aug. 10 to be reassigned from fire marshal to an engine company officer, saying that the responsibilities of the job "have begun to take a serious toll on my family and my health."

The request was granted Aug. 12 by Negron.

However, Byrne quit the following day, according to city officials.

Negron declined to comment on the letters Wednesday, but said the department "is still 100 percent committed to fire prevention and public education."

He credited Byrne with helping start a public-education program praised by a team of consultants paid last year to examine the city's fire and police departments.

"Dan taught us that it was possible to do fire prevention programs that really make a difference," Negron said. "But those programs are bigger than one person."

In a report released earlier this year, consultants from the International City/Council Management Association called the Fire Department's approach to public safety "some of the most forward thinking ... in the entire United States."

Negron said those programs will be the responsibility of every employee in the department.Burton Fire Chief Harry Rountree said Byrne is known throughout the state and across the country for his innovative and effective public-education programs.

"We're very happy to have him," Rountree said. "What he brings to our jurisdiction and our department is immeasurable. He'll start as a firefighter/paramedic, but we'll be looking to enhance his role here pretty quickly."