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Fire & Rescue

Always Ready, Always There

Phone: 503-823-3700

Fax: 503-823-3710

55 SW Ash Street, Portland, OR 97204

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Personal Journey: From Horse Training to Firefighting


Firefighter Steve didn’t expect to end up at

Portland Fire & Rescue as a firefighter. 


Firefighter Steve stands proud in front of Engine 19.

In fact, Steve felt content with his choice of becoming a horse trainer, following in the footsteps of his mom and stepdad on their horse ranch in Boring, Oregon.  As he grew and graduated high school, he continued to work hard at the ranch, not only training horses, but providing horse riding lessons for children and training equestrians to complete in quarter horse shows at local and national levels.

Steve learned early on that to successfully train a horse or teach a student, there was no easy road or magic formula.  Horse training and student teaching for him was a commitment in time, patience, and sensitivity.  What he didn’t realize, however, was that this important lesson he learned early on about perseverance and persistence would help guide him throughout his life.

Firefighters from Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) and Gresham Fire & Emergency Services began bringing their children to Steve for horse riding lessons.  Steve was well known through the community for his friendly approach to the art and sport of horse riding, and his keen ability to teach children balance, control, and confidence during lessons.  Steve developed good relationships with the parents of the children he taught, involving parents with lessons and helping them to understand the goals of what he was trying to achieve.

One of the parents, retired PF&R Deputy Chief Brannen Bates, encouraged Steve to apply to be a firefighter. Chief Bates saw his potential – Steve was modest, dedicated, humble, a great listener and communicator, had a great sense of humor, and was decisive.  But most importantly, Steve knew how to help others succeed and reach their full potential. 

Steve and Chief Bates talked about the profession of firefighting at length, and Steve was amazed at just how much Chief Bates loved his job, the Fire Bureau, and the sense of brotherhood and family that firefighting provided for him. 

With no firefighting experience, Steve applied for the Trainee Program at Portland Fire & Rescue. PF&R’s Trainee Program consists of a "earn while you learn," comprehensive, paid, eight-week training program located at PF&R's Training Center. Chief Bates told Steve not to get his hopes up as thousands of firefighter applicants from all over the North America test every year for limited spots in PF&R’s Trainee Program. Bates promised Steve that if he passed the tests, he would take him golfing. To his own amazement, Steve successfully passed the written test, physical agility test, and Chief’s interview on the first try. To celebrate, Steve took Chief Bates golfing!

Steve began his career at PF&R in September 2002.  Over the past 8 years, he traveled to fire stations all over the City of Portland, working extended times at Stations 2, 23, 25, and 30. 

Station 19 is located at 7301 E. Burnside Street and serves the

Center, Mt. Tabor, Montavilla and Madison South Neighborhood Associations

In January 2006, Steve landed at Station 19 and has been there since. Although Steve enjoyed the responsibilities of being a firefighter, he felt as if he could give back more to the community by playing on his strengths as a teacher.

Steve started looking for opportunities to educate children about fire safety and the responsibilities of a firefighter. Steve began by working with other Firefighters such as Travis and Vince to provide guided fire station tours to groups of children and adults. 

Steve began to tailor the station tours to effectively engage children of all ages by using his experience of teaching riding lessons, training horses, and being a dad to two wonderful children with different learning styles.

FF Steve Johnson conducts a station tour and teaches a group of pre-schoolers how to safely stop, drop, and roll.

Steve learned that to keep young children’s attention, he relates firefighting equipment to animals or tangible everyday items – for example, hoses are like elephant trunks that suck and then push out water, firefighting foam that helps firefighters cool a fire and to coat the fuel is like bubble bath, and a smoke alarm is like a big giant nose that sniffs air and screams when it smells something burnt. In addition to explaining equipment to children in a way they can understand, Steve uses age-appropriate scenarios and hypothetical situations to teach children fire safe behavior.

Teaching children fire safety is a lot like teaching horse riding lessons for Steve. Steve uses a variety of teaching methods, creates a comfortable learning environment for children of all ages, and gives children the opportunity to take an active part in their own learning.

Steve also appreciates the support he receives from other firefighters he has worked with at Station 19, including Lieutenant Jim, Lieutenant Eli, and Firefighters Mike, Travis, and Vince. Lieutenant Jim, Steve’s current station officer, is very supportive in understanding the importance of station tours and the benefit they provide to children in the community.

Portland Fire & Rescue appreciates the skills and experience that Steve brings to the job of being a firefighter and how he uses his strengths to benefit the Mt. Tabor community.


  Portland Fire & Rescue 

  We Respond: Always Ready, Always There

  January 6, 2011 


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January 28, 2012 at 4:24 PM

Wow Steven I didn't know how long you have been working and I didn't know that you taught children! That's so cool :) thank YIU for what you do :)

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