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Hayden Lake Fire Commissioners Oust Chief Two Volunteer Firefighters Resign Over Dismissal

Hayden Lake fire commissioners fired the district’s chief of 15 years Tuesday, angering many of the department’s firefighters.

Commissioners dismissed Wayne Syth during an afternoon meeting, telling him they wanted to “facilitate a different style of the district’s management,” said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Dennison.

Two of Hayden Lake’s nearly three dozen volunteers turned in their gear in protest shortly after learning of Syth’s dismissal. A third is organizing a recall petition in an attempt to oust the chairman of the fire district’s board of commissioners.

“I was shocked because that man has done more for this Fire Department, as far as the growth of it … I just quit,” said John Yeats, a three-year volunteer at the Garwood station.

Commissioners gave Syth, a volunteer or employee of the district for the past 22 years, no indication they were unhappy before firing him, the former chief said.

“I’ve given 150 percent to the district…,” Syth said. “I’ve responded to calls in the middle of the night, on the weekend, on holidays, and special occasions. I guess this is the thanks I get.”

Wayne Johnson, chairman of the board of fire commissioners and target of the recall effort, said the decision to fire Syth was made in the best interests of the district. He did not provide details.

“Things just weren’t working out,” Johnson said. “Honestly, there is not one specific reason.”

Several volunteers disagreed. They credited Syth with fostering the district’s growth from a group of volunteers to a full-time, paid department and improving training.

They admired Syth’s rapport with volunteers and paid firefighters alike. His reputation as the first one on the scene of a call earned the respect of many.

“Most everybody that knows him thought he has done a hell of a job as fire chief,” volunteer Maynard Nisbet said. “I don’t think you could find a better chief. The volunteers are very upset. The paid people can’t be. They could get fired.”

Nisbet has called a meeting tonight at 7 at the Sandtrap restaurant to discuss the firing and the recall effort he’s organizing.

He hopes to gather enough signatures to put Johnson’s future as a fire commissioner to a public vote. Jim Fischer and Dean McMillen, the district’s other two commissioners, are up for re-election next month. McMillen voted to fire Syth, while Fischer abstained, the former chief said.

Gerald Engelbrecht, a 13-year volunteer at the Garwood station, also decided to resign after talking to Syth.

“That was my statement. I don’t try to talk people out of their decisions,” Engelbrecht said. “They probably had a good reason - in their minds. In my mind, Chief Syth was the man of the hour. My statement is that if you don’t need him, you don’t need me.”

Engelbrecht said his resignation coupled with Yeats’ decision to leave the department could put the Garwood station out of service. They were the station’s main two volunteers, he said.

Syth took over as chief of the volunteer department in 1982. He became Hayden Lake’s first paid chief when the department started hiring firefighters in 1992.

Syth said the district improved three insurance ratings under his watch.

“We’ve been the the most progressive fire district in the state of Idaho in the last five years,” Syth said. “I don’t know what they wanted.”

Recent internal problems caused by the commissioners’ decision to demote a deputy chief to captain and later fire him have sunk morale, some said, but no one blamed Syth.

Johnson recognized that Syth’s dismissal has not been popular with everyone, but said the district will benefit in the long run.

“Wayne Syth has been a long-time employee of the district and it was a real hard thing to do,” Johnson said.

Dennison will serve as the district’s interim chief until Syth’s replacement is named, Johnson said. The search for a new chief is expected to begin this week.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo