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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Fire chief remembered for long, distinguished career

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Fire chief remembered for long, distinguished career

COVE — A career dedicated to safety and a willingness to help others has come to an end.

Cove Rural Fire District Chief Sonny Johnson stepped down recently, ending a run as fire chief that started in 1992. Johnson had been a volunteer with the department for about 10 years and served under Red Hill before taking the position of fire chief.

“I was always quizzing Red about doing better for the department, updating equipment and trucks,” Johnson said.

When Hill retired, he passed the baton to Johnson. The new chief set out to bring up the standard of equipment in the department.

“He was always very concerned about our safety and welfare,” said Debra Hansen, an EMT with the department, who has worked with Johnson since 1989. 

Over the years Johnson worked to secure funding and get grants for equipment, including updated breathing apparatuses, OSHA-approved turnouts and new trucks.

Ron Warnock, who recently took over as the new fire chief in Cove, served under Johnson since 1992. 

“When I first got to the fire department, there was really old stuff,” Warnock said, adding he remembers driving an old surplus army tanker that was very slow.

“By the time you got there, they had the fire out,” he said.

Johnson changed that.

Under his watch, the fire department got new or gently used trucks.

“We only have one truck right now that we had back when I started,” Warnock said. 

Johnson is also remembered for his dedication to assist others.

Mitch Williams, the wildland fire protection supervisor for the Oregon Department of Forestry, has worked frequently with Johnson on dual protection and mutual aid fires over the years.

“I think of him as a very get-it-done leader,” Williams said.

Williams could make one phone call to Johnson and know he would get the help he needed.

“He has always been a great supporter of the Oregon Department of Forestry in the suppression of wildland fires in Union County and throughout Northeast Oregon.”

Johnson is modest about the accolades.

“This valley is really blessed with fire departments that get along really well with each other, mutual aid each other and work together,” Johnson said.

Johnson appreciates both his firefighters, who fought fires aggressively, and a supportive board.

“What makes me feel good is the fact that I’ve had really good people around me,” Johnson said.

Lyndon Rose, president of the Rural District Fire Board, credits Johnson with creating one of the best volunteer departments in the state.

“His goal has been to make a fire department that is effective, well trained and well equipped,” Rose said. “He has succeeded.”

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