Firefighting is in the blood

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

When asked why they joined the fire department, second and third generation firefighters often reply, &uot;It’s in the blood.&uot; No truer words can be spoken about the Johnson family of Suffolk.

Three generations have served the Suffolk Fire Department.

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Firefighting was much different in 1955 when Kenny R. Johnson volunteered in the Suffolk Fire Company, as the Suffolk Fire Department was known then. Hazardous materials, terrorism, medical calls and more have changed the face of firefighting in the 21st century. But the basics of firefighting remain: helping others, no matter the danger.

Johnson, who passed away in 1998, would surely be proud of his children and grandchildren who have carried on the family tradition.

Margaret Suits, Johnson’s widow, recalls: &uot;It had always been a dream of Kenny’s to become a paid fireman. But it was a hard life back then because they didn’t make a whole lot of money. I have a lot of respect for the people who did raise a family on a fireman’s salary.

&uot;We just couldn’t take a chance on raising our boys like that,&uot; she added. &uot;Kenny decided to stay at his job working for Buck Hurley Tile Company and volunteer what time he could to the Fire Company. Buck was a volunteer and former professional fireman, and he encouraged everyone who worked for him to volunteer as well. When a fire call went out, Buck would let them leave work and go help with the fire.&uot;

The Johnsons had three sons: Kenny Wayne, Thomas &uot;Buck,&uot; and Steven. Their father would tell his boys about his fire calls, and he encouraged them to pursue a career in the fire department.

Kenny R. was proud when, in 1975, Chief J. S. Carter hired Steven, and two years later, he hired Thomas (Buck). Kenny Wayne almost joined but decided to pursue another line of work.

Suits remembers: &uot;Although I have always supported my boys’ careers, I have often worried about their safety because the job can be so dangerous. I can remember a few times when I went to the hospital in the middle of the night because Buck or Steve got hurt in a fire.

&uot;Back then, when you joined the fire department, there was no academy to teach you the basics of firefighting, you just got put on the back of the truck and you got your training at a fire.&uot;

It has become a life long career for Steven, who retired as an engineer after 25 years, and for Buck, a 27-year veteran, who is now a captain.

Before Steven retired, he was proud to see his son, Steven H. (Stevie) get hired. Stevie has made the family proud, too. In 2003, he was promoted to lieutenant. Stevie remembers his granddad taking him to the Fire Department to visit his dad, whom he credits with inspiring him to make firefighting his career.

Crystal, the daughter of Thomas &uot;Buck&uot; and Julie Johnson, hopes to continue the family tradition and start a new one as well, by becoming the first female firefighter in her family. She recently took the test for the Suffolk Fire Department and has passed the written and physical agility tests as well as two oral reviews.

Crystal is proud of her accomplishment, but knows there are more challenges ahead:

&uot;I know there is so much competition for these spots, so I hope that if I don’t make it this time, they will consider me for future openings.&uot;