Culminating 36 years of service to the City of Poughkeepsie, Fire Chief Mark Johnson will retire at the beginning of next year.
Johnson first served the city as a police officer before transferring to the Fire Department in 1991. As a police officer, Johnson worked closely with the Fire Department and was a crime scene technician familiar with fire procedures and gravitated to that work.
He rose the ranks from firefighter to lieutenant to captain before being promoted to fire chief in 2010.
“Mark Johnson has been an exemplary fire chief and a consummate professional,” said Mayor Rob Rolison. “For decades, he has helped to keep this city safe, responding to all sorts of emergencies and always being there when people needed help.”
Johnson oversees a 63-member staff that protects approximately 30,000 people in an area of just under 5 square miles. The department operates out of three fire stations and responds to almost 5,000 calls per year.
Reflecting on his career and several of the more challenging fires his department had to contend with, Johnson said, “You always remember the ones with loss of life.”
The foremost memory is the loss of fellow firefighter Timothy Gunther on May 4, 2015.
Timothy Gunther was among the firefighters at the scene of a Church Street fire and later died of cardiac-related injuries sustained from the fire’s heavy smoke.
“That was the hardest day of my 30 years in the Fire Department,” Johnson said, “Speaking to the family and then later at the funeral, it was an extremely emotional aftermath.”
The other incidents that come to memory were the Duso Chemical fire in August 2001 when a hazardous material site burned for hours causing neighborhood evacuations, and the Taylor Avenue and Academy Street fires where many lives were lost.
However, there were many lives saved over the years as well from lifesaving EMS actions, babies born, and a woman rescued from a building collapse after four hours of responders carefully digging her from the rubble. These outcomes are what keep firefighters coming to work every day knowing that more times than not, they make a difference, the chief noted.
Johnson said he is grateful to the department members who put their lives on the line and have protected the city so well for so long.
Johnson said he is proud of the many changes made under his watch, with the department becoming “more professional and modernized.”
Mayor Rolison added, “That is what people should remember. Mark Johnson has had a distinguished career. He has truly led by example. On behalf of the city, I thank him for his service and wish him the best in retirement.”
The Mayor said he would begin the recruitment process for the next chief in the fall.