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Answering the call

When emergencies strike, first responders like Shannon Johnsey take charge.

November 26, 2019

min read

It was May 13 at 9:42 p.m. The days were getting longer as summer was just around the corner. That night, the sky was clear and stars pierced the dark Oklahoma sky. Shannon Johnsey was sitting on his patio, enjoying the calm evening, when he got the alarm. He immediately sprang into action. Within seconds, he was in his truck and headed to Muskogee, Oklahoma, where the Georgia-Pacific (GP) paper mill – his mill – was on fire.

“When I showed up, I got to work and unified command with the Muskogee fire chief,” said Shannon, who serves as the Emergency Response Team (ERT) leader for the GP Muskogee facility. “Once we determined that everyone in the building was evacuated, we went on the offensive attack to extinguish the fire.”

Shannon Johnsey, Muskogee Mill's fire chief

The cause of the blaze was a forklift that caught fire. Within minutes, the building it was in was up in flames. Throughout the night and into the early morning, more than 50 members of Shannon’s GP fire team and the Muskogee Fire Department battled the fire together. By 5 a.m., it was under control. The bad news: the roof and a side of one of the buildings had collapsed. The good news, and the part that mattered most to Shannon: everyone was safe and accounted for. It was a stressful eight hours, but it was an event Shannon was prepared to handle. And thanks to his leadership, his team knew how to deal with it too.

“These types of situations can be nerve-wracking. It’s important to resort back to the training and keep a level head,” said Shannon. “It becomes second nature at some point.” 

As the GP Muskogee facility’s ERT leader, Shannon oversees a group of more than 55 members who are prepared to tackle any emergency or safety-related need that arises – from fighting extremely rare fires like the one in May to maintaining safety equipment such as sprinkler systems and HAZMAT gear.

“There’s a lot of learning, studying, book work and school you have to do. But with that being said, you also have to have a short memory,” Shannon expressed. “You have to be able to put things behind you because you never know what’s on the other end of the next call. It might be completely different.”

"I know I can count on him."

Before working at GP, Shannon had a completely different career path. In fact, he was hired at GP as a machine operator. He didn’t have any fire safety training or experience as a first responder. But when presented with an opportunity to take on extra responsibility as a member of the response team, he made a choice that would ultimately change his life.

“I didn’t know anything about emergency services when I went full time here at the mill 13 years ago,” shared Shannon. “But I jumped right into it. I really took to all the hands-on training and drills we had to do. If I knew how much I would have liked it, I would have become a firefighter right out of school.”

"I want to make sure every single person goes home to their family at the end of the day."

Today, it’s safe to say Shannon has found his calling as a first responder. In addition to turning his passion into a leadership role at the Muskogee facility, Shannon has also become an instructor for GP’s Global Emergency Response and Preparedness Group and a certified fire safety training instructor for the state of Oklahoma. He also serves as a member of his community’s volunteer fire brigade, which was recently named Northeast Oklahoma’s Fire Department of the Year.

“Shannon has a sense of duty and sense of pride in what he’s doing,” said Yogi Cole, Fire Chief at the Keys Fire Department where Shannon volunteers. “He’s willing to put in the work. I know I can count on him.”

While the accolades and credentials are nice, that’s not why Shannon continues to answer the call.

“I want to make sure every single person goes home to their families at the end of the day,” beamed Shannon. “I’m backed by a super management team here and have a great group of responders behind me. I enjoy doing what I do. I like helping people. And I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can.” 

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