Calimesa’s first fire chief, Jock Johnson, is retiring. The announcement was made Monday night at the Calimesa City Council meeting. Johnson, who has been with the Calimesa Fire Department since its planning stages about five years ago, will retire, effective Nov. 11. Battalion Chief Tim O’Connell will step in as interim fire chief while the city conducts a search for Johnson’s replacement, City Clerk/Deputy City Manager Darlene Gerdes said. Wearing his dress uniform, Johnson accepted a statue of recognition from Mayor Bill Davis, on behalf of the city, at the Nov. 1 meeting. “Years ago, Calimesa had a wild idea, let’s become a fire department, let’s do our own thing,” Davis said. When the city began to explore the possibility of its own fire department in late 2016, citing the rising cost of Cal Fire services, Johnson and Geraldo Rodriguez were hired as consultants to provide fire planning services. Johnson and Rodriguez then stayed on in the positions of chief and deputy chief, respectively, when the Calimesa Fire Department opened its doors at midnight on Jan. 1, 2018. “Jerry (Rodriguez), Jock, Jeff Hewitt, Jim Hyatt,” Davis said, “me and (City Manager) Bonnie (Johnson) were against it all the way. We were non-believers, but it happened.” And, it’s been a success, with Johnson a key component. “Jerry and Jock, you make a very good team, as far as supporting each other and putting it together,” Davis said, pausing to compose himself. “You will be missed and I will break bread with you anytime,” he told Johnson before reaching for a handshake and embracing him too. Johnson then stepped to the podium to give a few words. “I just want to say it’s been an honor and pleasure to work for the city of Calimesa,” he said. “It has been the biggest challenge in my life and in all my career of public service. I have worked with each and every one of you and it has been an honor. “With that, I am going to keep it short and sweet so I cannot break down.” Johnson has been a popular figure in the community, attending events and helping out. He would often be seen at the Calimesa Sen-ior Center’s popular dinner-dances in the pre-pandemic days. Serving food, bussing tables and twirling around the dance floor with seniors, Johnson and other members of the fire department were always a welcome sight. Johnson and the fire department annually participate in the Calimesa Christmas pa-rade, organized by the Cali-mesa Chamber of Commerce, and were known to stop by for a couple of songs at the Concerts on the Green during the summer. Several members of the fire department attended Monday’s meeting and stood and applauded Johnson, along with city staff and council. Johnson then made his way around the dais, shaking hands and giving hugs. O’Connell, who was providing the evening’s fire report, stopped Johnson and said, “Chief, on behalf of all these gentlemen in the back, I am very humbled for everything you have done for us. You have set us up for success. Thank you very much. Nobody can fill this like you did.”
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