NFPA Journal online exclusive, May/June 2007
By John Nicholson
Joseph E. Johnson, P.E., one of the nation’s most prominent fire protection engineers, died June 5 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He was 92.
According to History of Fire Protection Engineering, Johnson, a former member and chair of the NFPA Board of Directors, worked in a variety of positions within the industry. He was an engineer, chief engineer, company president, and chairman of the board for a variety of manufacturers and design firms. “Joe’s most important contribution to fire protection engineering was his creation of arguably the first totally fire protection engineering consulting company,” wrote D. Peter Lund in his chapter entitled “Individuals Who Shaped the Profession.”
Lund went on to write, “It was Joe who saw the need for such a service and, in the early 1950s, founded with Frank Gage, U.S. Fire Protection Engineering Service, Inc. John Babcock, formerly of Factory Insurance Association, joined the fledging firm in the late 1950s as vice president. In subsequent years, the firm was renamed Gage-Babcock & Associates, Inc.”
During his influential career that included many of the profession’s “firsts,” Johnson developed and engineered the first large-scale water spray installations for chemical plants. He also developed the first water spray nozzle especially designed for use in fire protection systems and Johnson proposed the first use of hydraulic calculations for regular sprinkler systems, patented the first on-off sprinkler system, and he pioneered the development of the early warning smoke detection systems and helped developed the standards that guided the installation of such systems.
Born December 12, 1914, in Lone Oak, Texas, the son of Ora and Joseph E. Johnson. He was a graduate of Oregon State College with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. He started his long career in fire protection in 1934 in Dallas, Texas as an engineer with Texas Automatic Sprinkler Company where he rose from engineer to chief engineer.
During World War II, he served in the Pacific as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. From 1947 to 1963, Johnson served as president and chairman of the board of Viking Fire Protection Company in Kansas City.
During his 17 years in Kansas City he met and married his wife Mildred Barker, and they became the parents of three daughters and two sons. He was involved in many charitable organizations including Rotary Club, Boy Scouts, the Boys Club, United Funds, the Salvation Army and was an elder at the Village Presbyterian Church.
From 1964 to 1979, Johnson was president of Pyrotronics Division of Baker Industries in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey. In subsequent years, he served Baker Industries as vice president of external affairs. He retired in 1980, but continued working as a consultant until 1992, including serving on the Board of Cerberus Technologies.
Throughout his life Johnson was most proud of his involvement in industry safety organizations. He was a charter member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers and a member of the National Fire Protection Association. Johnson joined NFPA in 1947 and had been a member for 59 years.
He was elected to the Board of Directors in 1967 where he served as Treasurer from 1972 to 1982 and as Chair from 1986 to 1988. He was also appointed to the Standards Council in 1978 and served there until 1981.
As he began his tenure as chairman of the board of directors, Johnson reflected on the 90th anniversary of NFPA. “It was my feeling that NFPA’s success has been the results of 90 years of dedicated effort by committed individuals,” he wrote in the May 1986 issue of Fire Journal. “This historic perspective gives me a very good feeling about the future of NFPA. It is much easier to be an optimist when you have personally experienced so many things to make you optimistic. As I begin my service as Chairman of NFPA, I look forward to working with all the individuals who together make NFPA the outstanding organization I know it will be for the next 90 years.”
Johnson served with distinction on several NFPA Technical Committees. He was a member of the Committee on Safety to Life from 1980 to 1991 and he chaired its Subcommittee on Building Service and Fire Protection Equipment from 1981 to 1990. He also served on its Subcommittee on Administration from 1981 to 1990. He was also a member of the Committee on Health Care Facilities from 1985 to 1991.
A Life Member, he continued to attend meetings when possible, doing his part to save lives and protect property from loss by fire, as he did all his working life.
Johnson received the Association’s highest technical honor, the Paul C. Lamb Award, in 1981. The Paul C. Lamb Award was established to honor NFPA members whose service to NFPA characterizes the height of volunteer spirit and deed.
In 1992, Johnson was made an Honorary Member of the Association. Honorary membership may be bestowed upon those who have rendered NFPA exceptional services of the highest order over a substantial period of years. Membership acting on the recommendation of the board of directors makes this award.
In 1981, Johnson and his wife moved from Bernardsville, New Jersey, to Hilton Head. He was active in Hilton Head as well, with the Island Rotary Club, and Greater Island Committee and was a member of the First Presbyterian Church. Joe was a generous man and father, who loved his life, his friends and his family. He shared his love of travel and adventure with his family, introducing them to everything from camping in the American West to photo safaris in Africa.
Johnson is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mildred Barker Johnson; his son William B. Johnson of Trona, California; his daughters Jeanne B. Johnson of Atlanta, Georgia, Sarah Pace Johnson of St. Paul, Minnesota, Judith Johnson Lutz of Fort Mill, South Carolina, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
In this Section:
|Fire Protection Engineering Loses a Leader
Joseph E. Johnson, P.E., a former chair and member of the NFPA Board of Directors, died June 5 . He was 92.
|Gary Tokle Retires
Gary O. Tokle looks back his career with fondness and appreciation of the numerous changes that have increased awareness of fire fighter risks and made fire fighting safer.