Former Clallam firefighter/paramedic steeped in treatment, counseling in wake of drug theft charges
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Former Clallam County Fire District 3 employee Paul Rynearson looks over paperwork during his December appearance in Clallam County Superior Court in Port Angeles.
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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But his addiction to narcotic painkillers has cost him much more.
After being accused of stealing morphine from the Fire District 3 station in Sequim, Rynearson said he will not be able to renew his license to work as a firefighter/paramedic and will never be able to work in the field again.
“[The addiction] just reared its ugly head, and those are the repercussions of it,” Rynearson said Friday.
According to Sequim police reports, Rynearson, 40, stole painkillers from the Sequim fire station two separate times in mid-September and early October.
The 40-year-old married father of three boys was charged in November in Clallam County Superior Court with one count each of second-degree burglary and third-degree theft.
A restitution hearing Friday set the amount Rynearson must repay Fire District 3 at $9.42, according to Superior Court records.
As an alternative to jail time and in exchange for having the charges dismissed, Rynearson is now working his way through Clallam County's Drug Court program, which is expected to take about a year.
“If you're doing everything right, you get it done,” Rynearson said.
“If you screw up, it takes longer.”
As part of the program, Rynearson goes to the courthouse every day, seven days a week, to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings.
He also must check in every Thursday with Drug Court administration to report on his status and take random drug screening tests.
Rynearson also is undergoing outpatient drug treatment three days a week for two to three hours per day at Olympic Personal Growth Center in Sequim.
This treatment and counseling counts toward the Drug Court program requirements, though Rynearson said he was going to the personal growth center before he started Drug Court.
Rynearson said his experiences in Drug Court have been positive, adding that he thinks it's a good way for people to get help for their addiction rather than be locked up in jail.
“Drug Court offers that help,” he said.
Rynearson is one of hundreds of Clallam County residents who have gone through to Drug Court, a diversion program started in 1999 and aimed at curbing recidivism by helping non-violent offenders break the cycle of addiction.
Proponents say the program saves taxpayers $2.50 for every $1 spent on drug court.
As part of Rynearson's Drug Court contract, he agreed that the facts in his case are sufficient to find him guilty of the charges against him if he quits the program.
Rynearson told Sequim police detective Sean Madison in November he intended to use the drugs he stole from the Sequim fire station to feed his addiction to narcotic painkillers and reportedly injected himself with a vial of morphine he had taken from the station Oct. 6.
Rynearson refilled the vial with saline, according to police reports, and later told a coworker what he had done so a patient would not be injected with it.
The addiction got so bad in September, Rynearson said, that he would sometimes take painkillers from patients on calls.
According to police reports, Rynearson said he would take just enough pills from patients, 10 at a time at most, to get him through his shift.
In all his years as a firefighter/paramedic, Rynearson said he had never done anything like this before.
“Within that one month, everything went ballistic,” Rynearson said.
“That one month, and it all came to a close.”
He declined to say how he became addicted.
Rynearson said the stress of seeing people injured and in pain on a daily basis was becoming too much for him and he was planning to retire at the end of 2013.
“I was trying to survive until my retirement,” Rynearson said.
“I knew I couldn't keep doing this job.”
Rynearson resigned from the position he had held for 14 years via letter Oct. 15 after he was placed on paid administrative leave by Fire Chief Steve Vogel on Oct. 3 for reasons Vogel said then were unrelated to the drugs reported missing from the Sequim fire station.
Vogel said Friday he has never received complaints of missing drugs from patients of Rynearson's.
“The patient always came first on the call. There was never a question about that,” Rynearson said.
“All my patients always got treated the best the fire department could offer.”
Rynearson, originally from Edmonds, worked as a firefighter/paramedic in Tacoma for about six years before starting at Fire District 3 in 1999.
Rynearson said he has been a stay-at-home dad since he resigned and that both his family and former coworkers have been supportive during his recovery.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen contributed to this report
Last modified: February 21. 2014 10:34AM