Firefighters build a ramp to help one of their own

Firefighters gathered on a cold windy day to build a wheelchair ramp for one their own, a retired firefighter and former state fire marshal who has devoted his life to the profession for more than half a century.

Roger Johnson, 73, who served as state fire marshal from 2005 to 2008, has been essentially home-bound for some time at his residence a few blocks south of Columbus North High School on 23rd Street. Johnson has been using a wheelchair for health and safety reasons, but had no way to leave his home, which has steps.

In an impromptu decision, a group of firefighters representing Columbus and area volunteer departments decided to give Johnson “freedom” on Friday by building a a 24-foot-long and 4-foot wide wheelchair ramp off his backdoor, using materials sold at cost from a local home improvement store.

With handrails on each side, as well as girder boards to prevent Johnson’s wheelchair from sliding off, Columbus firefighter and project co-designer Nick Tuttle said he thinks it may be one of the sturdiest wheelchair ramps in existence.

“We may have overdone it,” said Tuttle, as dozens of firefighters set to work to construct the ramp, some wearing fire department cold weather gear as they worked.  “But its so sturdy you could probably park a truck on it.”

As Johnson watched the ramp quickly taking form from his back door, he said he felt beside himself with gratitude.

“I’ll finally have some freedom,” said the 1963 Hauser High School graduate, who has been using the wheelchair for about a year as he is treated for rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

For more on this story, see Tuesday’s Republic.