Just six months away from closing out an illustrious 29-year career with the same department his father had served, Lt. Kevin K. Johns put on his uniform and got into his car Tuesday to head in for duty.
But he never made it there. The highly decorated Fort Lauderdale firefighter was struck by a car and critically injured after getting out of his car to change a flat tire on the side of Interstate 95.
Johns died just after 1 p.m., about six hours after he was hit while standing beside his vehicle on the shoulder of the southbound lanes near Yamato Road in Palm Beach County.
He was 48, and left behind a wife and three children.
“He was the type who led from example, a tough guy,” said Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue Deputy Chief Timothy C. Heiser. “When he showed up, I knew I had nothing to worry about.”
Johns’ wife, Brenda, and his father, retired Cmdr. Vernon Johns, were at his bedside when he died at Delray Medical Center, Heiser said.
“To have something like this happen to a guy just shy of retirement, with an outstanding career, it’s just terrible,” Mayor Jack Seiler said.
Seiler said it was “a tough day” for the city, calling Johns “an incredible asset.”
About 100 people, including family members and firefighters, gathered outside the hospital to salute Johns. His body, on a stretcher and covered with an American flag, was loaded into a Palm Beach County medical examiner’s van.
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“I ran out of my car and I called 911,” a shaken Simmons told WPBF-Ch. 25 in a roadside interview. “I checked on him to make sure he was breathing. I spoke to him. He was trying to make sounds, talk to me.”
“I called 911, told them what happened, and tried to get someone here as soon as possible,” Simmons told the television station.
She said she never saw Johns until he was on her windshield.
No charges have been filed as the investigation into Johns’ death continues.
Johns served the city “for over 28 years and saved countless lives during that time,” Fort Lauderdale Fire Chief Robert Hoecherl said in a statement. “Kevin will be dearly missed by his fire department and city family.”
As the news of Johns’ injuries and subsequent death spread, dozens of fellow firefighters, including his entire seven-member ladder truck crew from Fire House 13, joined his family at the hospital, Heiser said.
Other firefighters volunteered to cover their shift.
Johns became a firefighter in April 1986, and planned to retire in April of next year. He worked with his father for a year until the elder Johns retired.
Heiser said Johns’ personnel file was brimming with commendations and letters of appreciation from the public. What the file did not contain was even one disciplinary citation. “He was never even late,” said Heiser.
“Basically he was the type of guy who always went out above and beyond in everything,” said Heiser.
Firefighter Glen MacDonald, who first met Johns in 2009, said, “Today is a tragic day. He was a role model. Anyone who got in contact with him and knew him was a better person for it.”
Asked what Johns planned to do after retirement, MacDonald said, “He was going to go live his life.”
In his long career, Johns battled scores of fires, including one massive blaze at a Dollar Store in November 2001 in which two people died.
“It was very, very bad; a very dangerous situation because of the high heat and the total blackness,” Johns, one of the first firefighters on the scene in 2001, told the Miami Herald. He described the roof of the burning building on West Sunrise Boulevard as being so hot that water from the hoses instantly turned to steam.
Lt. Jib Webster, who helped fill in Tuesday at Fire House 13, at A1A and Sunrise Boulevard, recalled Johns as “a great jokester,” but also as someone always willing to help.
“When I was moving into my house, he showed up to help me move,” said Webster, who lived near Johns in Jupiter. “That’s the type of guy he was. He’d go out of his way to help out.
“He was a bigger-than-life guy.”
Johns and his wife, his high school sweetheart, owned a day care center in Jupiter called Clubhouse University, Webster said.
In addition to his father and his wife, Johns is survived by his three children — ages 28, 20 and 17 — and one grandchild.
Johns daughter, Amanda Johns Bussek, said it is comforting to know that her father’s presence will be missed by so many.
“He touched so many lives over the course of his [life], it was overwhelming to learn today how far his reach went,” she said. “He never bragged, gloated or asked for anything in return — both in his personal and professional life.”
Funeral services are pending.
Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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