Harold C. Mason, retired battalion chief for Baltimore fire communications, dies

During the 2001 Howard Street Tunnel fire, Mr. Mason ran the fire command post.

Harold Claude Mason Jr., a retired Baltimore City Fire Department battalion chief who headed the fire communications bureau, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Jan. 27 at his Owings Mills home.

He was 72.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Brunt Street in West Baltimore, he was the son of Harold Mason, a Baltimore Transit Co. driver, and his wife, Grace.

He was a 1959 graduate of City College, where he played clarinet in the school band. After graduation he joined the Air Force and was assigned to posts in Texas, Greenland and Vietnam.

Family members said that an uncle, Charles Thomas, a pioneering African-American member of the Baltimore City Fire Department, encouraged Mr. Mason to join the fire service. He completed his training at the Baltimore City Fire Academy and joined the department.

After serving at various locations, he became a battalion chief in the fire communications office.

"He worked his way up," said James Crockett, a former president of the Board of Fire Commissioners. "He became the first African-American battalion chief for communications.

"He trained a lot of men and women in the service. When he was training, he'd always say, 'Study that book,'" said Mr. Crockett, in reference to training manuals.

During the July 2001 CSX railroad fire in the Howard Street Tunnel, Mr. Mason ran the command post on Lombard Street.

"The white hat never looked better than it did on him," said his wife, Dr. Donna Minor Mason, a dentist.

"He was dedicated to his work and respected all, regardless of race or gender," she said. "He often said, 'I am protecting the lives and property of the citizens of Baltimore City.' He was proud of his achievements."

Mr. Mason belonged to professional organizations including the Vulcan Blazers in Baltimore and the International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, Northeast Region.

"He was sharp-witted and was a devoted friend," his wife said. "He liked to hold court in the Vulcan Blazers Hall."

Mr. Mason traveled widely and attended fire department conferences. He was a mentor to younger African-American firefighters.

"He was easy to approach when there was a problem, and he had a scholar's knowledge of issues," his wife said. "He absolutely loved to be asked his view on something."

He often met with members of other fire departments and transported them to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg.

She said he frequently brought walkie-talkies and radio scanners home to stay in touch with the department during his off hours.

After he retired in 2006, he was a regular at a Wednesday breakfast club of fellow firefighters.

"Harold could liven up any social setting," his wife said. She recalled that her husband, with friends James "Earl" Alston and Tony Evassar Eaton, founded the Parliament Club, a social organization.

He was a devotee of the Baltimore Ravens and MSNBC political shows, and collected models of firefighting apparatus. Mr. Mason also attended jazz festivals in the United States and Canada with friends.

"He was a Dave Brubeck fan," said his wife. "He loved Nina Simone and Miles Davis, too."

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Epworth United Methodist Church, 3317 St. Luke's Lane.

In addition to his wife of 24 years; survivors include two daughters, Joy Marena Mason of Baltimore and Nicole James of Zanesville, Ohio; a son, Irvin Johnson of Baltimore; his parents; two brothers, Dennis Mason of Baltimore and Kevin Mason of New York City; and five grandchildren.


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