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Ventura, California

October 16, 2019 | Marie D. Magana

Chief Martin and his wife, Jill Johnson
Chief Martin and his wife, Jill Johnson

Martin Johnson, now a Fire Division Chief in Santa Barbara County, California , began climbing the ranks of Fire Rescue services in 1987. He was a young and ambitious firefighter looking for opportunities to grow in his profession and in his natural leadership abilities. He eventually worked his way up through the ranks of Engineer and then to Captain in 2000. However, from this point in his career, the only obstacle holding him back was a lack of college education. At that point, Johnson only had an Associates of Science (AS) degree in Fire Technology.

In 2013, Johnson began looking for an online degree program that was offered 100 percent online. He then discovered the online Bachelor’s in Occupational Leadership at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) .

“When I found the online Occupational Leadership program offered at SAGU, it was the best program I had seen and it fit my schedule perfectly,” he said.

Upon visiting the campus to drop his oldest daughter off for “Campus Days,” Johnson said that he “immediately fell in love with the heartbeat and spirit of the school.”

“I just ‘knew’ that God had opened a door for me and that this was where He wanted me to get my education.”

Looking back, he believes that SAGU’s Occupational Leadership degree has played a critical role in his career.

“The leadership training from this degree program not only helped prepare me for a management and leadership position within the Fire Service but also enabled me to pursue and achieve promotions within the Fire Department.”

In 2015, Johnson was promoted to the position of EMS and Training Division Chief while pursuing his bachelor’s at SAGU. In this role, he oversees the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Training Division personnel for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. He helps to ensure that the department’s Paramedic and Ambulance transportation programs continue to deliver the highest quality and the best service possible to those in need. He also manages all promotional exams, ongoing training, and new recruit training in the Fire Academy.

Johnson later went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude from SAGU in April of 2016. Shortly after, he encountered one of the most challenging experiences of his career.

The “Thomas Fire”

On December 4, 2017, at 6:26 pm, the “ Thomas Fire ” in Ventura, California , began. Fanned by strong east winds, the fire spread rapidly through the City of Ventura burning down over 500 homes in just a few hours.

Johnson was the ‘Duty Chief’ that night for Santa Barbara County. With the rapid spread of the fire towards Santa Barbara County jurisdiction, a “Unified Command” was established and he assumed the role of Incident Commander for his district. Ultimately, the Thomas Fire burned 281,893 acres and 1,063 structures making it the largest and most destructive fire in California at its time.

The Johnson family
The Johnson family

“We also not only had a civilian fatality during this fire but also a CalFire Engineer was killed in the line of duty while actively engaged in firefighting activities,” says Johnson. “I recall that day as if it were yesterday and will never forget the grief and sadness that all of us felt.”

While these tragic losses took an emotional toll on Johnson and his firefighters, his faith and trust in God has helped him during such times. As Johnson reflects back on his career, he is confident of God’s hand on his life.

God’s Will

“I’m not sure that I can quantify just a few events that led up to my promotion to my current position but rather it is the culmination of hundreds, if not thousands, of events that have prepared me for the role for which I now serve,” he says.

“Looking back, I believe that God has been preparing me for this position since the beginning. All of my life experiences have brought me to the place I find myself today.”

Johnson sets a standard in his division for putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. He reminds his team often that they are public servants and that they are to serve, and show each and every person that they come in contact with dignity and respect.

As he continues his extensive 32-year career as a public servant in the County of Santa Barbara, he predicates his career success to God’s will for his life.

“My vision is to emulate Christ to all I come in contact with by simply extending a helping hand in any way I can to those in need. Through this action, we show His love in a very tangible way.”

To learn more about SAGU’s Bachelor’s in Occupational Leadership, click here .

As a leading Christian university, SAGU educates and prepares individuals who want to serve Christ and others. SAGU helps students discover and develop their God-given callings in a Spirit-empowered, learning community.

We believe in affordable tuition, made possible in part through the financial support of donors who embrace the mission of SAGU and the importance of affordable, accredited programs to train Christians for leadership in ministry, business, education, and service.

Most majors are available in-person in Waxahachie, TX, and online through a wide range of associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

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