It’s an historic day for a North Texas community.
Lancaster has welcomed a new fire chief, who at one point in his life wasn’t even allowed in a fire station.
Tuesday was Kenneth Johnson’s first full day on the job.
“Looking forward to seeing what we can do to make sure that we not only meet the expectations of our citizens, but exceed them,” said Johnson.
The 52-year-old has been a firefighter for more than three decades, the majority of time with Dallas Fire Rescue.
This kind of public service was not a family tradition.
“When I first applied for a fire department I didn’t even know a firefighter,” he said. “Didn’t have opportunity to meet one, none of my friends or family members have ever been firefighters.”
However, one experience has stayed with Johnson since he was a little boy during the 1970s in South Dallas.
“There was a fire station across the street from where I used to live and they wouldn’t allow us to come in the station to drink water. We’d have to drink water out of the water hose,” he said. “So I remember when I made lieutenant and got an opportunity to work at that actual station, one of the things I did was open the door wide open, invited all the kids walking home from school in to have water. I was excited to be able to do that.”
And now, Johnson is living another milestone after becoming the first African American fire chief in Lancaster’s history.
“There’s some pride in that, I won’t deny it,” said Johnson. “Now the work begins, now it comes, what did the first African American chief do for the city of Lancaster.”
Johnson is making $125,000 a year.
Asked what specific goals he has for his first 90 days, Chief Johnson said he will evaluate where the station stands when it comes to staffing levels, overtime and equipment.
The department asked the city to budget three additional firefighter positions before Johnson took over.
He said the department should find out if the money will be made available in the fall.
Johnson will also ensure the department is at or below the national average of four minutes when it comes to response times.
And he will also look to improve recruitment efforts, especially among women and African Americans.
Out of 62 firefighters in the department, there is only one female and one African American firefighter in a city that is approximately 70% black.
“I spent five years in recruiting in Dallas and one thing I came to realize when it comes to minorities they have to be recruited, they’re not just coming in. Somebody has to sit down, spend time talking to them about being a firefighter,” he said.
Johnson points out there are approximately 10 Hispanic firefighters in the department.
The new chief will look to building community relations by welcoming residents to visit the city’s three fire stations.
“I believe that when the sun comes up the doors should go up,” he said. “People should know that they can come into the fire station.”