Johnson retires after 26 years with fire department
By Heather Graves
GREEN BAY – After 26 years of service to the City of Green Bay and the Village of Allouez, Captain Eric Johnson has retired from the Green Bay Metro Fire Department, walking out of Fire Station 4 for the last time Monday, Aug. 19.
Buck, as he was known to those at the station, said being a firefighter was what he believes he was always supposed to do.
“My best friend’s dad was a volunteer firefighter in my hometown of Oconomowoc,” Johnson said. “He took us to the station when we were very young, perhaps seven or eight. I was mesmerized by all the fire trucks, the equipment and the smells inside the station. From that very first encounter, I had a calling to become a firefighter.”
His career in public service began with the Oconomowoc Fire Department in the early 1980s.
His dedication to serving didn’t stop there. From 1985 until 2005, Johnson served as a flight medic with the Army National Guard.
“I started in the Company C 2/128th Infantry (TLAT) in Watertown as a combat medic,” Johnson said. “I transferred to the 832nd Medical Company (Air Ambulance) in West Bend as flight medic on a helicopter in 1992.”
Johnson’s unit was deployed on two activations, the Bosnian Crisis in 1997 and the Iraq War in 2003.
“In 1997 we were deployed to Fort Benning in Georgia for nine months and in 2003 we were deployed to Fort Lewis in Washington for a total of two years of which I was on deployment for one year,” Johnson said.
Upon his discharge, Johnson earned a handful of awards and medals including, but not limited to, the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Accommodation Medal, Army Achievement Medal and Overseas Ribbon.
Johnson made the move to the Green Bay area in 1993, starting with the Green Bay Metro Fire Department on March 1 as an EMT/paramedic.
During his tenure with the department, Johnson worked at all but two of the city’s eight fire stations, climbing in rank from private to captain.
Johnson served as a training captain for six and a half years and also served on the hazardous materials team and arson task force.
Throughout his career with the department, Johnson has been a part of many interesting calls.
The one that sticks out to him the most is the Edgewood fire in August 2006 – when the department lost one of their own – Lt. Arnie Wolff.
“There are many calls that will forever be placed on my memory card – some good, some bad,” Johnson said. “Another call that sticks out is a fan at a Packers game collapsed of a heart attack. Clinically, he was dead. My paramedic partner and I, with the help of others were able to revive him. He came to visit me at the station the following Christmas Eve. It was a very emotional reunion.”
Johnson said the world of firefighting is much more than simply responding to fires.
“We provide pre-hospital emergency care, technical rescue, fire investigation, fire prevention, etc.,” Johnson said. “Every time we go on a call, we may be dealing with someone’s worst day ever for them and their families. I don’t like to see people suffer. Seeing people suffer is increasingly difficult, even though it is a big part of our job.”
Throughout his time on the force, Johnson has always jumped at the chance to learn a new skill.
“I have always been a knowledge junkie,” he said. “You can never know enough about the job. I have always strived to learn and know as much as I can. Gaining knowledge kept me interested in the job each and every day.”
It’s that strive for knowledge that Johnson looks to for the future, now that his days of fighting fires are behind him.
Johnson is excited to continue to follow a new path – which includes teaching fire science classes at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) and working as an assistant chief of training and safety at De Pere Fire and Rescue.
“I have always been one for opportunity, never wanting to be one for status quo,” Johnson said.
Johnson has been a fire service instructor at NWTC for nearly 25 years, but is expanding his role at the college with their growing degree program for fire science.
“The timing was right for me to retire from Green Bay, so I can concentrate on my other entities,” Johnson said.
And if there is any time left over – hunting.
“We have a family cabin between Mountain and Lakewood,” Johnson said. “I enjoy spending time there to relax and unwind.”
Green Bay Area Fire Fighters President Ryan Hintz said Johnson was instrumental in training many of the department’s new hires during his years on the force.
“His persistence in furthering ourselves in education, training and tactics has pushed our department to continue to grow,” Hintz said. “We will miss him around the fire stations. However, we are excited to know that as an instructor at NWTC he will continue to shape young men and women eager to join the fire service.”