Reinstating firefighter sends the wrong message

John Ryan Mason’s return bruises everyone’s reputation

letters@thetribunenews.comJune 9, 2013 

John Ryan Mason sits in court during his assault trial in September.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

Much as we believe in second chances, some acts are so egregious that employers must send a clear message that the behavior will not be tolerated, period.

The actions of firefighter/paramedic/bar brawler John Ryan Mason fall under that category.

We believe the San Luis Obispo fire chief made the wrong call when he decided to reinstate Mason, rather than face a protracted and expensive legal battle to defeat the appeal of his dismissal.

Yes, there would have been a risk involved if the city had fought the appeal of the termination and lost. Mason could have been fully reinstated, with back pay, and that would have been more costly to the city in the long run.

We believe, however, that was a risk worth taking, and we suspect many city residents feel the same way.

The brutality of this beating — which stemmed from an ongoing disagreement between Mason and the victim — was sickening; the victim suffered 17 facial fractures, including a broken nose, jaw and cheekbones that required seven hours of surgery to repair.

Mason, on the other hand, walked away with no injuries at all — which always seemed at odds with his claim that he acted in self-defense.

To add to the outrage, Mason, then a firefighter/ paramedic, didn’t so much as make a phone call to summon aid for the victim.

And his egregious conduct didn’t stop there.

As Fire Chief Charlie Hines outlined in the original notice of dismissal, Mason left the scene of the fight, which occurred in the bathroom of Pappy McGregor’s Pub and Grill; tried to evade questioning by law enforcement; constructed a self-serving story; and placed his own self-interests above the safety of the victim and his responsibility to the department and the public.

While Mason was not convicted of criminal wrongdoing — a mistrial was declared after the jury deadlocked — he clearly violated the city’s code of ethics and organizational values; he admitted as much as part of his reinstatement.

Granted, Mason will not go unpunished. He will be demoted to an entry-level firefighter position; take a pay cut of almost $36,000 per year; give up all claims to back pay; and will be on probation for five years. During that time, he can be terminated for misconduct and will not have the right to appeal the dismissal.

Be that as it may, allowing Mason to rejoin the Fire Department is hard to stomach. It sends a message that the city has a high tolerance for misconduct; it’s a disservice to the many outstanding firefighter candidates who have unblemished histories; and it damages the reputation not only of the Fire Department, but also of the entire city government.

It may sound cliché, but firefighters are looked up to as heroes, and rightfully so. They are willing to sacrifice their lives; the city’s Fire Department Code of Ethics makes that clear.

It states in part: “I freely accept the inherent dangers of my position and commit to keep all citizens safe.

“I accept the enormous commitment necessary to perform the Department’s tasks requiring excellence of character.”

A firefighter who would exhibit such hostility and then brazenly walk away has shown that he is not willing to live up to that code, and should have no place in this fire department or any other.

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