EXCLUSIVE: Former Sunrise Beach fire chief cites bullying, harassment leading to departure

After six and a half years as chief, Dennis Reilly ended his tenure with Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District on Wednesday. (Photo courtsy of Dennis Reilly)

Thursday marked the beginning of a new era for the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District - one without Dennis Reilly as chief.

After six and a half years as chief, Reilly told KRCG 13 the decision to resign came on the heels of months of pressure and stress from a member of the department's board of directors.

"I did not think that it was going to resolve itself," he said. "I thought that the real resolve was for one of us to move away from the organization. I was given an opportunity to do that, and I just felt that it was best for me to go."

Reilly submitted his letter of resignation the board of Sept. 14. Less than a week later, the board president, Brian Layman stepped down.

In the letter of resignation, Reilly cited intimidation, bullying and harassment from a board member.

Reilly said leaving was not his first choice. Over the last year, he and his wife had decided they would most likely retire in Sunrise Beach. However, he said, when the April elections brought back a board member he'd previously had conflict with, he knew there would be issues.

"I will say that I was made to feel very uncomfortable," he said. "I would say that there was a tremendous amount of stress placed on me, which had adverse impacts on just not myself, but my wife."

He said he even considered leaving the profession entirely in order to remain in the community.

Ultimately, Reilly said he knew a change needed to be made. He was offered a position with another department out of state, and accepted it. His last day on the job was Oct. 10, but with vacation time he remains on the payroll until the end of the month.

Reilly said in his tenure as chief, he accomplished a lot that he is proud of including developing a department-wide strategic plan, ending every fiscal year with a surplus and improving the department's training procedures. When Reilly arrived the department had one firehouse, but it now staffs two.

Service has played a role in Reilly's entire career. He spent 15 years at the Cherry Hill Fire Department in New Jersey where he worked his way up to a battalion chief. While there, he responded to the terrorist attacks on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. He was also involved in the state's urban search and rescue team and did several deployments with the agency.

Reilly is a veteran of the United States Army and deployed as part of Operation Desert Storm.

He said he will work until he is 66 and a half - just like all the men in his family - and each day, he said, he finds this career is something he's honor-bound to continue.

"The point is that we're given the privilege to serve," Reilly said, holding back tears. "I've always felt like that. I'm so thankful for being allowed to do what I do, and that's why I love this business."

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