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Va. chief set to retire after 36-year career in fire services and EMS

Newport News Fire Chief Jeffrey “Jeff” Johnson: “I’m going out on a high point with a great organization. So this will be my last position within the fire service”


Newport News Fire Chief Jeffrey “Jeff” is planning to retire.

Photo/John C. Clark/Tribune News Service

By Josh Janney
Daily Press

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Newport News Fire Chief Jeffrey “Jeff” Johnson is set to retire next month.

City Manager Cynthia Rohlf announced his departure during Tuesday’s City Council’s work session. She praised his time with the fire department, saying “he’s been a great part of our leadership team.”

“As much as I hate to see him go, I’m comfortable with the accomplishments and where he is leaving the department at this particular point in time,” she said.

Johnson, 55, said his decision to retire was so that he could move back to Kansas City, Missouri where his wife, adult children and grandchildren live. He told the Daily Press that spending more time with his family was “the only reason” he wanted to retire, and said he loves Newport News and its staff.

“I love my job here,” Johnson said. “I love the fire department and the community. And so I feel like I’m going out on a high point with a great organization. So this will be my last position within the fire service.”

Johnson has served as the city’s fire chief since February 2019 and has a 36-year career in emergency medical and fire services. Much of his career has been dedicated to implementing cancer prevention tactics and more comprehensive physical and mental exams for firefighters.

Johnson said he’s proud of keeping the fire department competitive with pay and benefits, hiring and training quality recruits and modernizing fire facilities.

Last year, the International Association of Fire Chiefs awarded Johnson the Alan Brunacini Fire Service Executive Safety Award for going above and beyond in prioritizing fire service health and safety.

Rohlf announced she would appoint Deputy Fire Chief Wesley Rogers, who has 19 years with the department, as the interim fire chief until the city could find a long-term replacement.

Johnson said he will leave his position sometime in mid-May, possibly on May 11. However, before departing, he wants to ensure the transition goes smoothly.

“I’m shooting for somewhere around the middle of May,” Johnson said. “But I’m just trying to make sure I’m not gonna leave if something isn’t completed.”

Johnson said he hopes Rogers will eventually become the long-term fire chief.

“He has all the credentials, all the training, the education, and he’s got the personality and the understanding of helping run a large-sized fire department,” Johnson said. “I’m very excited for him and the opportunity.”

Johnson’s current salary is $192,220. He said the fire department has 384 firefighters and about 20 support staff.

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