When Dave Turner took over the management of Key Colony Beach one month ago, it marked the start of his fourth career. He has been a cop, a firefighter, a chamber of commerce executive and now a city manager. 

In Trenton, New Jersey, where he’s from, he spent 30 years on the job as a firefighter. He was, by turn, the youngest captain on the force and then the youngest battalion chief. He was also pulled into the executive arena as chief of operations, overseeing a $53 million budget and a staff of 253 firefighters and support staff. By comparison, Key Colony Beach’s $5 million budget and 21 employees is a walk in Sunset Park. 

What’s the most surprising thing about his new role as city manager of Key Colony Beach?

“How fast the day goes by,” Turner said. “And I didn’t expect the amount of support I would receive from staff, residents and elected officials.”

Rather than being thrown into the deep end and told to figure it out, he said everyone is willing to sit down and give him the full story. 

“They give me the information I need to succeed,” he said. 

Turner and his wife, Kimberly Matthews, moved to the Florida Keys in 2017. She is Monroe County’s strategic planner as well as director of libraries. They settled into their home five weeks before Hurricane Irma hit. She was immediately pulled into the Emergency Operations Center to help manage the crisis during and after the storm, and Turner was recruited to help former Fire Chief Jim Callaghan with logistics. 

One of the first services he provided was cooking for the large group of evacuated officials at Ocean Reef. So, yes, it’s true that firemen know how to feed large crowds. 

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Here’ a little more about Turner:

How did you discover the Keys? I had been coming down for years for Fantasy Fest with buddies — fishing during the day and people watching at night. I brought Kimberly down one year and we drove around Big Pine Key. Before that, we had been a bit like “Green Acres” — I wanted to live in the country, and she wanted to live in the city. But we could agree on Big Pine Key.

Will you ever move to Key Colony Beach? I’m considering it down the line. It’s a great town. It’s like Mayberry. 

How did you meet Kimberly? I was called to do a fire inspection at a library! We’ve been married 13 years now. 

Before Hurricane Irma, did you have any hurricane experience? Well, we went through Superstorm Sandy up there. After the storm, I couldn’t get to my shift at the fire station because of downed limbs, so I rode my bike 17 miles to work because I could lift it over obstacles. 

Is Key Colony Beach going forward with a new city hall? Yes, I think we should have a working set of plans in about two months. It will be close, but we think the $5 million construction cost can be covered by our reimbursements from FEMA for Hurricane Irma debris removal and our reserve fund. I will be happy if we don’t have to borrow any money. 

How many lots are still unbuilt in Key Colony Beach? Less than 20 lots that can accomodate a mix of multifamily, single family home and duplexes. We are exempt from the state’s ROGO (rate of growth ordinance), although Tallahassee still has to approve the plans. 

What are some challenges facing Key Colony Beach? Well, we’re about done with our stormwater infrastructure, I think we have less than three streets left to finish and then we will be complete. We’re also looking at how to manage sea level rise and looking for a solution to the city’s lack of a boat ramp. 

How many vacation rentals does Key Colony Beach have? We have 570 registered rentals out of 1,800 homes including condominiums. Our population can go from 800 to 3,300 during season. 

Are you a fisherman? What’s one of your best fish stories? I just love fishing with my dad for stripers up north. Although I have no idea what’s going on right now. I am “snake bit” every time I go fishing lately. 

Were you good in school? Heck, no; I was a “flunky.” I didn’t want to be at school. My whole family worked in carpentry and construction, but it’s no fun banging nails in New Jersey’s cold weather, so I took the civil service test and became a police officer as a young man. 

How long did that last? About three years. The turning point was that I was under 21 years old and couldn’t legally buy my own ammunition; the chief of police had to buy it for me. That didn’t make a whole lot of sense, so I switched over to the fire department. When I took the “chief test,” I got the highest grade among 1,540 applicants. (Editor’s note: So, no, not that bad at school!)

Is being a fireman in Florida completely different than being a firefighter in New Jersey? Absolutely. We have separate crews that handle emergency medical service and firefighting. Up there, I was a student of fire science — learning about how different chemicals burn and arson investigation. 

Can you tell us about some notable moments on the job? Well, I worked “the pile” for three weeks after 9/11 looking for human remains. I also lost two buddies in a windowless structure fire in 1986. At that point, I put my nose to the grindstone and started working even harder to become a better firefighter. There was a lot going on in that job in that place — we handled the response to an anthrax attack and even used a ladder truck to get obese patients out of a window. 

How has life changed for you since moving to the Keys? Kimberly can’t believe how many people we’ve met and how many friends we’ve made. Back home, in eight years I probably only ran into a single acquaintance at the grocery store. Now, it’s impossible not to meet someone you know every time you go out. It’s a really great, friendly feeling. 

Is there anywhere else a city manager can wear an earring? Not that I know of. 

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.