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Q&A with Emergency Services Director Ken Johnson 

In this Q&A we learn a bit about the Paso Robles Emergency Services Director Ken Johnson, sometimes referred to as the fire chief. Not only do we learn more about his position but we get to know Ken away from work. It’s always nice to see the human side of things. Thank you to Ken for agreeing to do this Q&A and thank you for your service to our community.

Q&A with Emergency Services Director Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson fire chief

Emergency Services Director Ken Johnson

Where are you from originally?
I was born in the bay area and spent most of my childhood in San Mateo, Tracy, and Lompoc. I left California many years ago to begin my fire service career with the Grand Junction, Colorado Fire Department. I spent 18 years with that department before accepting a fire chief’s position in Union Gap, Washington.

If not from Paso Robles what brought you here and how long have you been here?
While working in Washington state, a friend alerted me to the Paso Robles’ fire chief vacancy. My research found the community to be perfect in so many ways, including its support for decent fire and rescue services. Competition was stiff and I was thrilled to be offered the position. That was 14 years ago and not a day has gone by where I’ve not been thankful for the opportunity to serve this great community.

What did you do prior to being the emergency services director for Paso Robles?
A four-year enlistment in the United States Marine Corps preceded my public safety career, which began in 1981. My fire department jobs in Colorado and Washington included time in every major organizational position. The variety of experiences prepared me well for my current job responsibilities.

What are some of your responsibilities as emergency services director?
The job can best be summed up as responsibility for community fire defense, rescue, and emergency medical planning and service delivery. On a daily basis, it’s more about making small, incremental steps to improve our services to a growing and changing community.

What do you like best about your job?
What I like most about the job is the job itself. As I’ve shared with others on many occasions, I know of no other employer that buys neat and unique tools, teaches you how to use them, and then turns you loose with the sole purpose of helping people. I consider it highly honorable and meaningful work. The people I work with are great individuals and only make my job that much more enjoyable. We’re all fortunate to be doing what we do.

What’s your least favorite thing in your job?
My least favored job activity would have to be meetings. While many are necessary and some can be productive, others are simply not necessary or fruitful. I think the value (outcome) needs to exceed the cost of participation and would generally prefer working over talking about it.

Does the fire department have any programs that revolve around kids in the community?
We have a great deal of interaction with kids in the community. There are a significant number of kids that visit our fire stations through school field trips or as drop-ins. We also visit the grade schools each year to provide safety education. For our community’s older “kids,” we’ve worked with the high school’s Regional Occupation Program for several years.

How about other outreach programs?
Beyond providing emergency services to Paso Robles citizens and visitors, we interact with the community through a number of outreach efforts. These include our participation in community events, fire and life safety classes, fire extinguisher training, CPR/First-Aid training, and career counseling.

Most rewarding experience you’ve had on the job, be it as emergency services director or a previous position?
The most rewarding was also one of the more difficult—orchestrating the successful transition from a combination (volunteer/career) to all-career department. It was difficult in the fact that our volunteers were so beloved by the community. External forces and increasing calls forced the change. The reward was in being able to maintain the same level of community commitment and care, while significantly increasing the quality and consistency of services provided.

If married, what does your wife do?
My wife, Margaret, and I have been married for 39 years. We were both in the United States Marine Corps and met while stationed at Camp Pendleton. Margaret now works as the chief operating officer for Martin Resorts, Inc. Martin Resorts owns the Paso Robles Inn and four other premium hotels on the Central Coast.

If you do have kids, how many and what ages?
Margaret and I have three children—all girls. The girls are within about a year of each other, all in their early 30’s. Two relocated to Paso Robles with us and one remains in Wyoming with her Air Force husband and two children. All together, we have four grandchildren and really enjoy our time with them.

What do you enjoy doing when not working?
I am an avid outdoors person. I enjoy hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. As a family, we enjoy camping and Jeeping.

What’s your favorite thing about Paso Robles?
I would have to say that my favorite thing about Paso is its sense of community. It’s a bit hard for me to explain, but is evident in the friendliness of residents, great community events, sense of purpose, “can-do” attitudes, and positiveness. It’s really more of a culture–and one that reflects my personal values.

Least favorite thing about Paso Robles, and is it fixable?
The thing I least like about Paso Robles and vicinity is the lack of public property (National Forest and Bureau of Land Management lands) and minimal opportunities to enjoy locally my outdoor pursuits.



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About the author: Matt Browne

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