Gerald Ford replaced Spiro Agnew as U.S. vice president. The Watergate break-in begins the unraveling of the Nixon presidency. A major blackout in New York's Borough of Queens throws 180,000 into darkness and panic. The Vietnam War officially ends with the signing of a Peace Pact and with it the military draft becomes history.
The year was 1973 and a young recruit from Culpeper County began his 34-year firefighting career at Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department's Penn Daw Station on Richmond Highway in Mount Vernon District. On June 3, 2007 that firefighter, after a six-year hiatus from Northern Virginia, was named chief of the department where he started his professional journey.
Ronald L. Mastin, 57, was appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to succeed Michael Neuhard after a nationwide search. Since August 2001, Mastin has served as Fire Chief of Henrico County.
"I was very content where I was, but when I was offered the opportunity to lead one of the premier departments in the nation and the largest in the Commonwealth of Virginia it was an opportunity I could not refuse," said Mastin, sitting in the conference room of his new offices at departmental headquarters in the City of Fairfax.
Prior to leaving for southern Virginia, Mastin spent the first 28 years of his career moving up through the ranks of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. "Most of my first 15 years I spent at various stations along the Route 1 corridor — Penn Daw, Mount Vernon and Woodlawn," he said.
"When I was promoted to captain, I went to Springfield, then to Merrifield, then to headquarters, and then back to Route 1," Mastin said. Now, as chief, he will oversee a personnel complement of more than 1,800, divided between 1,350 uniformed firefighters, 130 civilians and 325 operational volunteers.
HE WILL ALSO BE managing one of the largest firefighting/emergency service budgets in the entire Washington, D.C. region. "With the prediction of a county budget shortfall over the next several years, the trick will be to make sure we keep up the services to our citizens," he said.
Mastin’s ability to accomplish that raises no doubts in the mind of retired Chief Glenn Gaines under whom Mastin served as deputy chief of operations. "When we promoted him to deputy chief, he had all the necessary credentials," Gaines said.
"What impressed me about Ron is his calm demeanor and his ability to see through complex issues no matter what. When managing an organization as large as the Fairfax County Fire Department is now, you are facing all the strategic decisions as well as emergency situations simultaneously," Gaines said.
"Ron Mastin is not only a skilled corporate leader, and that is exactly what the department is, a large corporation, he is also a very fair gentleman. He listens to all sides. He's able to see things through and then make the right decision," he said.
"He is also a great command officer with a very good sense of dry humor and that is vital — to him and the department. He volunteered to serve as my deputy chief of operations which is unusual in itself. If I had to characterize Ron, I would say he is a quiet hero," Gaines said.
ALTHOUGH MASTIN spent the majority of his career as a Fairfax County firefighter, he views his six-year absence as presenting a challenge to getting back up to speed. "A lot has happened in the past six years and there's a lot for me to learn," he said.
"But, its very good to know that both the Board of Supervisors and the county executive are very committed to public safety. Now, it’s a matter of taking a look at how best to deliver our services," Mastin said.
"We are doing some benchmarking to make sure the system is set up to be of maximum efficiency and effectiveness. If there are ways to reorganize to make it operate better, that's what we want to know and that's what we'll do," he said.
That is exactly how he approached the job of Henrico County Fire Chief according to Deputy County Manager Leon Johnson. "Ron did a great job as our fire chief. He worked very hard to make us into a truly professional organization, and he accomplished that by the time he left," Johnson said.
In the case of Fairfax County, Mastin sees "no big gap in fire equipment or apparatus. We are very fortunate to have state-of-the-art equipment in this county. But, we are always looking for ways to upgrade and improve on our capabilities."
He also finds the regional networking in Northern Virginia and
throughout the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area to be unprecedented. "We are all working together to benefit the entire region. After 9/11 the region has worked very hard to make sure we are operating as a team," he said.
ONE OF THE crucial elements to that teamwork is the ability to communicate effectively between various first responders elements. "That interoperability has been a challenge for years. However, we have been able to purchase the necessary equipment to improve that capability," Mastin said.
Just last week Gov. Tim Kaine's office announced that Virginia will establish three strategic radio caches statewide. One of those is Fairfax County, which has received $1.9 million in grants for that purpose.
"I think we are very well prepared for any emergency whether of a natural disaster, health pandemic or terrorism. But, we must constantly strive to improve that preparedness," Mastin said.
Married with two grown children, Mastin and his wife Gloria are presenting living in the City of Fairfax. He earned a bachelor of science in fire administration and management from the University of Maryland and an associate degree in applied science in fire administration from Northern Virginia Community College.
Mastin is chairman of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association's Scholarship Committee. He is a member of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, Metro Section; Southeastern Fire Chiefs Association; and has served as vice president of the Metro Richmond Fire Chiefs Association.