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Colleagues remember Alan Johnson

August 11, 2009
ALTON — The sudden passing of former fire chief Alan Johnson Sunday morning shocked and saddened many in Alton and surrounding communities, but those who worked alongside him and befriended him during his 45-year career found solace in their memories of a true professional who could always be counted on in hard times.

A New Jersey native, Johnson moved to New Hampshire in the early 1970s, settling in Farmington and joining the local fire department.

After responding to an emergency call where an ambulance was needed, and taking note of the drawn-out response time, he collaborated with fellow firefighters, including current Chief Rich Fowler, to establish Farmington's first volunteer ambulance service.

"He was a great guy," Fowler said Monday, remembering Johnson as a very knowledgeable and helpful individual who later became a great source of advice when Fowler made his own transition to the position of fire chief.

After leaving Farmington in 1972, Johnson transferred to the Rochester Fire Department, where he struck up a long-lasting friendship with Dick Giguere, who now serves as Rochester's Assistant Chief.

"He was the type of person you don't hear about too often, who'd give you the shirt off his back," Giguere said of Johnson, who served at his side from 1972 to 1977.

Fondly recalling Johnson's "great smile" and sense of humor, Giguere said he and Johnson used to have "a heck of a time" running Rochester's muster team, hooking up hoses and knocking down targets during challenges.

"I've seen his two boys grow up," Giguere added, his voice choking up slightly. "He was nice to be around very pleasing."

Johnson joined Alton's Fire Department as a call firefighter in 1991, working his way up the ranks over the next 14 years to the position of deputy chief.

In March of 2004, he was chosen by the board of selectmen to become the first full-time chief in the town's history.

Selectman Pat Fuller, who sat on the board that promoted Johnson in 2004, said Monday afternoon that her thoughts and prayers were with his family.

During his tenure in Alton, Johnson strove to keep the fire department on the cutting edge in terms of equipment, and radically re-organized the volunteer department shortly before he stepped down.

At a selectmen's meeting in June of last year, he announced that he was dividing the on-call command structure into four companies (the Engine 1 Company, the Engine 2 Company, the Ladder Company, and the Emergency Medical Technician Company), and promoted four of the department's veteran members to the rank of lieutenant, placing each of them in charge of one of the new companies.

Scott Williams, who served under Johnson as the department's assistant chief, and replaced him as chief in a part-time capacity after health problems forced him to retire in January, remembered him as someone who enjoyed being around people, and loved to have a good time both on and off the job.

"He was a good firefighter," Williams said Monday. "He was on the department a long time, and brought a lot of experience."

Citing Johnson's retirement party in January as one of his fondest memories of the former chief, Williams said he will take away "a lot of good memories."

"There were a lot of fond moments, I can tell you that," he said. "He was good to all of us we're going to miss him."

Johnson leaves behind a wife and two sons, Scott and Chris, both of whom followed their father into the fire service.

Calling hours have been scheduled for tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 14) from 4 to 8 p.m. at R.M. Edgerly and Son Funeral Home, located at 86 South Main St. in Rochester. A memorial service will be held at the funeral home Saturday morning at 10 a.m.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

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