Central County Fire & Rescue has announced that Fire Chief Russ Mason will retire on Jan. 8, 2016, after 38 years in the fire service.
Mason began his career in Bolivar, Missouri, where he got his start as a firefighter – through baseball, of all things. Mason said he used to coach junior high baseball, and one day, his assistant coach suddenly went running across the field, jumped in his pickup, slapped a flashing blue light on the roof and sped off. When the assistant coach returned, Mason asked about what had happened, and got invited to come to a fire department meeting to learn more.
Inspired by that incident, Mason became a volunteer firefighter in Bolivar and rose to the rank of fire chief after just five years with the department. Throughout his career, Mason has served as assistant chief of Rolla Fire & Rescue, with the Missouri Division of Fire Safety and as Missouri’s deputy chief state fire marshal/chief investigator.
During his tenure as assistant chief of the St. Peters Fire Protection District, Mason helped to lead efforts to consolidate that district with the St. Charles Fire Protection District, according to the release announcing his retirement. After a two-year process, CCFR, the largest fire district in St. Charles County, was born. Immediately following the consolidation, Mason was named deputy chief. In 2003, he was promoted to his current position as chief of the fire district.
“Chief Russ Mason has dedicated his life to protecting the community by providing the best emergency response services possible,” CCFR Board of Directors President Dave Tilley said in the release. “By responding to more than 2,000 fire-related incidents, being responsible for point of origin and cause determination for over 1,000 fires, and helping create a strong, well-respected fire protection district he exemplifies what many strive to become. His leadership, dedication and passion for the fire service will be greatly missed.”
While working for the Division of Fire Safety, Mason also developed and implemented the state’s Fire Fighter Certification System – something he feels was the greatest accomplishment in his career. As a part of that system, he developed Missouri’s first firefighter training manuals, its first state fire instructor, inspector and fire officer certification programs and a company officer-driven training program.
“There was a mentality in the state that you couldn’t teach firefighting at a department level, that you had to hire somebody to come in, especially in the rural areas,” Mason said. “We thought that was backwards. The training begins at the local level.”
Mason said the idea was to give the firefighters the tools to teach themselves.
“That blossomed into the certification system that there is today,” Mason said. “That changed fire training in the state.”
While certification is not mandatory in Missouri, the Division of Fire Safety has issued over 71,000 certifications to date.
Moving forward, Mason said he is looking forward to a change. He and his wife are planning to open a Fastsigns franchise in St. Peters. He said he will miss the people and the friendships he has made. “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished here. I think we’ve built a very professional, very proficient fire department here. But I’m really excited about a new challenge right now and doing something different.”