Staff Report

What was billed as a meeting with the governor to discuss fire and safety issues turned out to be a surprise celebration of a Bartholomew County man’s long contributions to firefighting.

Roger Johnson arrived at Zaharakos ice cream parlor in downtown Columbus July 5 by wheelchair, aided by a couple of firefighting pals. Gov. Eric Holcomb and multiple firefighters arrived next, and the governor, after making a few remarks, awarded Johnson with a Sagamore of the Wabash. It is one of the highest state honors bestowed, and usually is a personal tribute given to people for distinguished service to the state or to the governor.

The Sagamore was the second presented to Johnson, who began his firefighting career in 1964 with the East Columbus Independent Fire Department. He received his first last September from then-Gov. Mike Pence, now the country’s vice president.

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A check with fire historians revealed than none could recall any member of Indiana’s fire service ever receiving two Sagamores.

Johnson and Holcomb have worked together since former Gov. Mitch Daniels’ initial gubernatorial campaign on public safety issues. Daniels named Johnson the state fire marshal in 2005, a position he held until 2008.

Johnson also notably served for seven years as president of the Indiana Firefighters Association, a 3,500-member organization. In addition, he has held a variety of positions on the local and state levels that address public safety and the support of firefighters.

Holcomb detailed Johnson’s efforts to provide a safe environment for fire and emergency service members prior to presenting the award.

Johnson, who has Parkinson’s disease, said he was surprised by the award, and spoke briefly after the Sagamore presentation. Many of those in attendance kidded Johnson about the brief time he had a microphone in his hand.

Before leaving the event, Johnson said he is looking forward to working on issues initially planned and upcoming legislation to improve both career and volunteer members’ safety.