Meet Rice County's new Director of Emergency Services, Joe Johnson


At the tender age of 12, Joe Johnson decided on a career in emergency services. The circumstances were far from ideal for Rice County’s new Director of Emergency Services. While firefighters and paramedics were tending to what he calls a “fairly serious head wound” sustained in a car crash, his attention turned to the care and compassion he was being shown. It was enough for the kid from central Wisconsin to decide his life’s work would be to help others as he’d been helped.

Following high school graduation, Johnson joined the local fire department and ambulance service and received his associate’s in Paramedic Technology from Century College. After a few years as a paramedic, he went back to school to obtain a bachelor’s in Fire and Emergency Management from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. That, he says, made him the first in his family to have a college degree while allowing him to develop leadership skills in his chosen field. Johnson began working as a paramedic for Northfield Hospital + Clinics Emergency Medical Services in 2007, but didn’t move to Rice County for another eight years. After 17 years with the ambulance service, the then-assistant chief was ready for a new challenge.

He joined Rice County in April and has jumped in with both feet. “I knew these positions (directors of emergency management) in the county you live in don’t come open often,” he said of his decision to apply, adding that while many of his current responsibilities are similar to those he had as Northfield EMS assistant chief, his new role allows him an opportunity to help all county residents.

Though he’s been on the job just a few weeks, Johnson has already participated in some full-function exercises, including a mock search for a missing person with the Department of Natural Resources, reviewed emergency response plans with several outside agencies, met with county department heads and public safety partners to assist to determine their emergency preparedness, and is updating relevant policies. It is always nice when a local person with the skill set Joe has applies for an open position. It is even better when that individual rises to the top and accepts the offer. Joe brought a fresh set of eyes, a positive energy and the eagerness to succeed,” said Sheriff Jesse Thomas. “He was involved with the May 25 rescue on the Cannon River, took over incident command and immediately started documenting resources to make sure we knew where every person was. It will be exciting to see where Joe takes Rice County Emergency Management.” But what does Johnson believe residents must do to be ready for an emergency? Have a plan and resources readily available, he says. “Have enough food and water for three days. Ensure you have a plan to self-sustain if needed.”