Fire Chief set to retire after 36-year career with city

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PFD Chief Mark Johnson.

POUGHKEEPSIEFire Chief Mark Johnson is leaving the Poughkeepsie Fire Department after reaching the mandatory retirement age.  The veteran city employee began working for the city as a police officer before transferring to the fire department in 1991.  The 36-year employee is slated to leave in January of 2022.

Johnson rose through the ranks and has led the city’s firefighters as chief of the department since 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 five 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.  Gunther was among the firefighters at that scene of the 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, speaking to the family and then later at the funeral. It was an extremely emotional aftermath,” the chief said.

The other incidents that come right 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.

Chief Johnson showing antiquated equipment in 2020. File photo.

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.