Keith Hoyle used to make the four-hour drive from his childhood home of Plattsburgh, NY to Lexington to visit his aunt, uncle and cousins three or four times a year as a kid.
Now, at almost 60 years old and with 38 years of Fire Department experience, Hoyle's back. Since July 1, he's been Interim Fire Chief Keith E. Hoyle, and so far he likes his new digs.
"I'm loving it here so far," Hoyle said in his office on Friday, a week after taking the reins from retiring Chief Bill Middlemiss. "It's a lot like Amherst, where I used to work. It's historic, beautiful."
Hoyle lives with the same uncle he used to visit as a kid on Marshall Road during the week, and drives back to his home in Easthampton on the weekends to be with his family.
"I had to discuss it with my wife, because we knew me taking this job would mean more separation," Hoyle said. "But we knew it'd be short term, which appealed to us."
Town Manager Carl Valente signed Hoyle to a six-month contract, during which time he'll be paid $3,153.85 a week, or $41,000 total.
Valente said that he chose Hoyle out of a pool of 20 retired fire chiefs because the former 10-year Fire Chief in Amherst (from 1999-2009) had been out of fire service for a comparatively short time, and because the two areas he'd been chief in -- Amherst and Franklin -- are similar to Lexington in size and community type.
Hoyle doesn't plan to make wholesale changes during his six-month tenure here. Instead he plans to make small tweaks to the system, and potentially groom a successor.
"I mean, look at this thing," he said, leafing through the thick Lexington Fire Department protocol binder. "It wouldn't be fair to anyone to make them memorize one of these, and train them, and then have them relearn a new one as soon as I leave."
Hoyle's still getting his bearings, but his 38 years of experience should prepare him pretty well for any twists and turns that come up. Before his ten-year run as Amherst chief, Hoyle was Fire Chief in Franklin from 1994-1999, and before that he was Deputy Chief in Amherst for 15 years.
Along the way he earned a B.A in Fire Administration from UMass Amherst, where he got his start in firefighting as a student volunteer in the summer of 1971.
Most recently, Hoyle worked in public relations for a private company in North Attleboro, which makes sense, given the way he cooly deflects praise with an infectious smile.
"You shouldn't be here talking to me. I'm just sitting at a desk. Go out there and talk to the real stars," he said, for example.
When the conversation turned to his 6-foot-4 athletic build, Hoyle did admit to playing defensive end on his football team in high school, though insists that he wasn't any good and "always got run over."
"I'm no hero. I've never saved any cats from any trees," he added. "I'm just a regular guy."
Hoyle's past coworkers, however, did not hold back praise for Lexington's new Interim Chief.
"Out of everyone we interviewed, his references were the most stellar all around," Valente said.