SWEDESBORO, N.J.–This year Edward Johnson is celebrating 50 years in firefighting. Inspired by his grandfather, Johnson’s grandson, Matthew, 20, also joined the Woolwich Fire Company two years ago. And his daughter, Heather, has been a member for 10 years. Another grandson, Michael, 13, also plans to join as a junior member after his next birthday, Edward Johnson said.
A former arson investigator for Gloucester County, Johnson, 66, works as a fire investigator for a private company, figuring out what started fires for insurance companies and law firms.
“My father (Edward Johnson Sr.) was a member of the Oak Valley Fire Company in Deptford,” said Johnson. “I joined at 16, as soon as I could. It’s fun. I enjoy it. I have been a police officer, firefighter, fire investigator and it all started as a volunteer firefighter.”
Johnson is in his 37th year with Woolwich and serves as a driver and safety officer, ensuring accountability and proper procedures are followed.
His most memorable fire was at Romeo’s warehouse, one of several fires set on Mischief Nights in the late 80s and early 90s. Johnson and three others were on the first truck to respond and the fire was already blazing in two warehouse buildings and threatening nearby homes.
“We’ve had numerous major house fires over the years,” he said.
Meanwhile, the highlight of Heather Johnson’s volunteer service is saving lives, both people and animals.
“I like to save people’s lives,” said Heather, 42.
Her dad recounted that one of the first times she went out on a call with the fire company she and other members of the fire company administered first aid and saved the life of a man who was in a motorcycle accident and gravely injured. She also saved the life of a cat at a house fire. Heather works as a driver for a car dealership.
Matthew Johnson, an Eagle Scout who is studying zoology at Rowan University, joined the fire company because of his granddad.
“We’re like a family,” he said of the Woolwich Fire Company. “I’m among friends when I’m here. It’s always nice to come down here and be one of the team.”
Gloria Johnson, Edward’s wife, said that she is accustomed to her husband running out at all hours for a fire call.
“When we got married, he was a firefighter,” she said. “So it’s just natural for me. It’s nothing strange, people running out of the house at three in the morning.”
The couple knew each other in high school but did not date then. When they were older, Ed asked her girlfriend out but that woman had just gotten engaged and she recommended that he take Gloria out. She was working at a department store and Ed, then a police officer, followed her home in his patrol car. Their first date was his partner’s wedding.
“In a month we were engaged,” said Edward. The Johnsons have been married for 44 years.
The friendly and welcoming atmosphere at Woolwich is why many people volunteer, along with the satisfaction they get from helping their community.
“The Johnsons are one of several families with multiple members involved as volunteers for the Woolwich Fire Company,” said Chief David Valichka. “We welcome anyone who would like to help, either as a fire fighter or in a supporting role. Volunteers benefit from the free training and can make lasting friendships.” The fire company will also provide the needed gear.
“You can help the Woolwich Fire Company in many ways and all will benefit you, your family and your community,” Edward Johnson added.
For more information or to volunteer go to: www.woolwichfirefighter.org