Jason Eagan is a 33-year-old volunteer firefighter. He also happens to have Down Syndrome.
Eagan has been a volunteer firefighter for the town of Sandoval, Illinois since 2016, when he passed both the written exam and physical exam despite debate as to whether he should even have applied.
According to Eagan’s sister Kristin Sian, Eagan quit the fire department several months ago after finding himself on the receiving end of regular harassment from other firefighters who called him names and removed his name from the emergency paging system. Reportedly, other firefighters even called him a “retard.”
Sian wrote the following message, which she posted to Facebook:
“My brother, Jason Eagan, has Down syndrome and became a fire fighter in Sandoval, IL. He responded to every single call and it has come to my knowledge he quit a few months back due to harassment from a fellow fireman. It disappoints and angers me that this was allowed and that a grown man bullied a fellow fireman simply because he’s different. I’m beyond pissed off!! Be thankful I live 400 miles away because I would take action on your sorry behind! My brother is an incredible person with an amazing drive and heart. You should be ashamed of yourself. I love you, Jasey!!! Keep your head up!”
#MyFavoriteFireFighter 🚒👨🏻🚒My brother, Jason Eagan, has Down syndrome and became a fire fighter in Sandoval, IL. He...Posted by Kristin Sian on Thursday, February 7, 2019
The family said they would speak with lawyers and disability advocates.
The community rallied around them and the post quickly went viral.
Sian told The Belleville News-Democrat that while some firefighters viewed her brother as one of them, others weren’t so keen on his inclusion.
“They did not want him to be there at all but he took the classes and put in hours and was always there,” Sian said. “Some of it was joking and some of it was serious, but it was enough to make him quit.”
Jason’s aunt, Mary Kay Eagan-Robbins, recalled the harassment started last year.
“It went good for two (or) three years and then, all of the sudden, someone at the fire department started harassing Jason and picking on him and bullying him.”
Eagan-Robbins noted that the treatment devastated her nephew, who “always put that fire department over even family. That’s what was always so important to him.”
On Sunday, Eagan-Robbins announced that her nephew had been offered his job back after meeting with several members of the department and a Sandoval trustee.
But Sian says that her brother won’t return to work until the family is satisfied “that the bullying is overwith for good,” according to one report. One of the four firefighters involved resigned from the department; another is expected to resign soon, too.
“He is excited to return,” Sian said Monday. “We just have to make sure this will not happen again.”