CHIMACUM —Dave Johnson, a man who devoted his life to the fire service and disaster response work, died of cancer at his home Monday, his family around him.
Johnson, who would have turned 73 this year, served as the chairman of the East Jefferson Fire Rescue (EJFR) Board of Commissioners for eight years. He stepped down just a few weeks ago.
“EJFR and the fire service is mourning the loss of an icon,” the agency said in a statement released Wednesday morning.
After earning a degree in wildfire science at the University of Washington, Johnson, a native of Yakima, went to work with the U.S. Forest Service in 1969.
During the ensuing four decades, he responded to countless wildfires as well as national emergencies as an incident commander, including Hurricane Katrina, the Columbia space shuttle disaster and the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
As EJFR’s board chair, Johnson led the organization to numerous innovations and accomplishments, EJFR’s statement noted.
Some of his achievements include merging with the Port Townsend Fire Department and enhancing the fire district’s ability to manage emergencies by creating the Medical Service Officer and Battalion Chief positions.
Earlier in his career, Johnson spent time in Washington, D.C., where he wrote a portion of the original legislation for the AmeriCorps program. He also traveled to India to develop disaster response plans with that country’s government.
In the Pacific Northwest, Johnson responded to incidents in the Snoqualmie National Forest on a wildland engine, Colville National Forest as a helitack manager and assistant fire management officer, Umpqua National Forest as fuels management specialist, Olympic National Forest as fire management officer and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest as a fire and aviation staff officer.
When he moved to Port Hadlock in 1984, Johnson volunteered for the Chimacum Fire District, becoming Jefferson County’s first EMT instructor.
“Dave Johnson’s legacy to the fire service and our community is immense; his absence has left a void in the heart of the community and fire service,” EJFR’s statement said.
EJFR commissioner David Seabrook, who served with Johnson on the board, said his collaborative leadership style inspired those around him.
“He made sure all the voices were heard in the decision-making process,” so that each person felt ownership of the outcome, Seabrook said.
“That makes a world of difference.”
Johnson was passionate about the battalion chief position, which ensures that each EJFR shift has someone in a leadership role, Seabrook added.
As board chairman, Johnson also shepherded the agency in its search for Chief Bret Black and the creation of the medical services officer post. That position, essentially EJFR’s lead paramedic, is now held by Tammy Ridgway.
“He really was a mentor for me. He provided leadership in moving the department forward in how we serve the community,” Seabrook said.
Johnson showed an uncommon grace while he was ill, his fellow commissioner added. He participated in numerous extra meetings without complaining.
“I found that inspirational,” Seabrook said.
“I saw him not too long ago. I let him know his legacy is sound, and that we’re going to carry forward with all the changes he helped implement.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]