HOUSTON — John Johnson, or as most people call him, “JJ” recently received the EMS Special Award passed down by the State of Alaska Council on Emergency Medical Service.
“Anybody in EMS in the Valley knows who he is,” Houston Fire Chief Christian Hartley said.
JJ was surrounded by his fellow Houston firefighters at Station 9-2 when he received the award, getting the chance to enjoy a special cake made for the occasion.
“It’s always good to recognize service and dedication. I know it’s a pretty competitive award,” Hartley said.
JJ said that he was pleasantly but totally surprised to be this year’s recipient. He was one of several nominees eligible to receive this year’s award. Everyone, including his wife tried their best to keep the good news a secret until they all got to the fire station.
“I had no idea,” JJ said with a laugh.
Harley explained that this ceremony was drastically different this year due to COVID-19. He said it’s normally held at the Eagan Center with an array of state officials in attendance. He said they just did the best they could to recognize JJ in a socially distant fashion.
Several firefighters and other community members, including Houston Mayor Virgie Thompson took a moment to share stories about JJ and how much his efforts on and off the clock over the last 42 years has meant to them and the greater community.
“You were on almost every call I ever heard. I can’t imagine how many lives you saved,” Thompson said.
Houston firefighter Dalton Fiedler recalled JJ’s interaction with him when he first started his career. He said that he couldn’t remember what JJ said, but he remembers him looking him in the eyes and the feeling he gave him. He said that feeling never left and they’ve only got closer over the years.
“He’s probably one of the best moral supports you can get in the fire department,” Fielder said.
JJ has been with the Houston Fire Department for about 12 years, serving as the senior engineer among many other duties. His service to the community goes well beyond firefighting. He’s volunteered with numerous groups across the community, including the Alaska Professional Volunteers.
“I’m always wanting to learn more,” JJ said.
JJ currently lives in Big Lake. He said that he first started fighting fires in 1978 and went steady in 1986. He’s served all over Alaska and places as far as the Persian Gulf.
“I enjoy it. I’m good at it, I think,” I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” JJ said.
JJ is currently between chemo treatments. He was diagnosed in March. He said that some days he feels better than others. While everyone was grabbing a slice of cake and sharing laughs, he said that that day was one of those days.
“I’ve got a good support network,” JJ said.
JJ reflected on some of the original inspirations that led him to his path as a firefighter. He said it started when he helped put out a baseball field fire when he was 10 or 12 years old.
“I think it’s just the fact it’s just helping people. It’s not about the money,” JJ said.
Harley said that he met JJ in 1998 at the Willow Fire Department. He said that JJ has always been the quintessential EMS role model to look up to. He said that he matches the true definition of a leader, something that goes beyond rank or even seniority. He said a leader is defined by “how many people follow them.”
Hartley said that JJ helps with numerous community endeavors, including Houston’s annual Founder’s Day celebration. He said that he’s one of the first people to go out to any local school to offer education like fire extinguisher training with home economic classes.
“He loves to go over to the high school,” Harley said. “He’s an awesome guy. He deserves it, period.”
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org