MASON — Mason Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert Johnson has won the national title of Veterans of Foreign War “Firefighter of the Year,” it was recently announced.
The announcement came during the First Responders Appreciation Dinner, hosted by the Stewart-Johnson V.F.W. Post 9926 of Mason and Smith-Capehart American Legion Post 140 of New Haven.
Johnson was first chosen as the local V.F.W. winner, next going on to win the state title, and finally the national distinction. He was to be honored at the V.F.W. Loyalty Day Dinner on Sunday.
Johnson followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, uncles and other family members in the Mason fire department. Joining the junior firefighters as soon as he was old enough, he continued to serve with the department until he left for active duty in the U.S. Army in 1988.
During Johnson’s 21 years in the military, he saw many deployments including Operation Desert Storm, OIF 1 (the initial push over the border into Iraq), OIF 3, and OIF 5. Among his military awards were two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart, as well as others.
Even while in the military, his love of firefighting remained. Stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, he became a member of the Harker Heights Fire Department and there was awarded a Certificate of Valor.
Following his Army retirement in 2009, Johnson and his family returned to Mason, and Johnson returned to the Mason fire department. Continually working to improve the department, Johnson recently secured a grant for a new fire truck and equipment.
He has completed emergency course work in West Virginia, Ohio, Texas and Alabama, and is now an instructor for many courses. He is currently pursuing an Associate of Science degree in Fire Science.
Dennis Zimmerman, Mason County Emergency Management Agency director, was guest speaker for the dinner. Zimmerman was appointed to the position in December 2016, following the retirement of Chuck Blake.
Zimmerman told those attending that he came from the fire service side of emergency management. He formerly worked for FEMA and was a flight paramedic in Arizona, before moving to Mason County.
The director said when being interviewed for his local position, he was asked what he saw as the biggest threat to Mason County. Zimmerman said he replied a weather related emergency.
Zimmerman stated he has responded to several large scale disasters, including the federal building bombing in Oklahoma City, the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, and the World Trade Center in New York. But he said it was Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana that really opened his eyes to how devastating a weather disaster can be.
Zimmerman said a winter storm that knocks out power for days could tax the resources in Mason County. He added his goal is to have the county become resilient enough to withstand 96 hours before needing any outside help.
Following Zimmerman’s presentation, Ray Varian, V.F.W. senior vice commander, and Dave Sigman, Legion commander, presented citations to auxiliary presidents Jamie Crum (V.F.W.), and Michelle Ryan (Legion). They also recognized Mrs. Zimmerman, as well as Larry Burns, who organized the dinner.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.