25 Years of Saving Lives- Fire Chief John Morrison
By: Jonathan Wu and Jessica Lin
When John Morrison was 16, he joined the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department (VVFD) as a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT). Since then, he has continued to volunteer for the VVFD and climbed the ranks to become the volunteer chief in 2010. We were able to speak with Chief Morrison on his volunteer work at the Vienna Fire Department, his work in various sectors and teams at the Fairfax County Fire Department, and how the fire service has changed as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
Chief Morrison’s journey started as a kid; he had always dreamed of riding in a firetruck. As soon as he turned 16, he went down to the station and filled out an application.
Shortly after joining the VVFD, Chief Morrison went to college at Villanova University to major in computer science and minor in business. However, he still found time to volunteer with the local EMS Department. He does admit that “sometimes the courses suffered a little” because of it. After graduating from Villanova in 2001, Chief Morrison moved back to the DC area and joined Booz Allen Hamilton as a federal contractor. He worked as an IT program manager but continued to volunteer for the VVFD on the side.
The Vienna Volunteer Fire Department, located in Vienna, Virginia, has approximately 100 volunteers; its main response area is the town of Vienna and the areas surrounding it. Covering a total of 7.19 square miles, VVFD has continuously served the residents of Vienna and Fairfax County since 1903, responding to approximately 2000 calls per year. The department has a special relationship with the county fire department. Although VVFD owns the building and apparatus, the county provides 24-hour career staffing on the apparatus. Volunteers will step in to compliment the career personnel or to cover for other stations throughout the county.
Morrison has also been a part of the Virginia Task Force 1 (VATF1) since 2003. The task force specializes in international search and rescue, and they have responded to various incidents such as the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and the 2011 Japan earthquake. Chief Morrison serves on the planning section, ensuring that the team is prepared to respond to any disaster.
Chief Morrison joined the Fairfax County Fire Academy as an instructor in 2004, where he leads classes in “everything, from the first-night classes where ‘hey it's your first night as a member and here's what a fire hydrant is’, all the way up to the advanced firefighting classes”.
In 2019, Morrison was awarded Chief of the Year by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). One of the main reasons was because he developed the Volunteer Management System (VMS) for Fairfax County. Prior to 2007, departments used whiteboards and paper logbooks to keep track of volunteer hours and training requirements. In order to make the information more organized, Chief Morrison created a computer program for the VVFD in his spare time to log crucial information on volunteers. Over time, more and more volunteer departments throughout the county asked for a copy of his system for their recordkeeping. Chief Morrison eventually decided to write one universal program that worked for all 12 volunteer fire departments in Fairfax County. This system resulted in improved operational efficiency.
Five months ago, Chief Morrison joined the Fairfax County Fire Department for his new day job as a data analyst. Morrison says it allows him to “take [his] computer skills and technical knowledge, and then bridge that with [his] knowledge of the fire department into this pretty cool position”.
However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, procedures have changed for the department. All personnel and patients wear a mask, and the department is cautious to put only one or two people in the room with the patient at a time. 911 call receivers make sure to screen all callers/patients to check for symptoms of COVID-19 before they arrive. If the patient has any symptoms, operators will “go into full garb, [which] means eye protection, face shield, mask, gown, [and] gloves”.
Morrison acknowledges that volunteering in the fire department is “not necessarily right for everybody. Obviously, when people call 911 they're not having a very good day. And so it's a very stressful, sometimes mentally stressful job. Even though you're not getting paid, it really is a job”. However, Chief Morrison feels that volunteering can also be rewarding as “helping people becomes contagious. It's one of those things where once you are able to help people and you have the skill set, you just want to keep doing it, and [keep] giving back to your community”. Ultimately, Morrison describes the fire service as “this sort of second family of people that you trust”. He has dedicated his life to this work, and we appreciate all of his contributions.
Thank you to Volunteer Chief Morrison for his time.
If you would like to learn more about the Vienna Volunteer Fire Department and apply to be a volunteer, you can visit their website at https://vvfd.org/index.html