Charlotte firefighter of the year selected for community outreach

Published on April 25, 2023

Charlotte Fire Holly Forbes Johnson

Charlotte firefighter Holly Forbes Johnson has been selected as this year’s Community Service Above Self Award recipient by the Charlotte North Rotary Club. 

Forbes Johnson joined Charlotte Fire in June 2016 after graduating from recruit class 99. At the time, the then 40-year-old Forbes Johnson was the oldest female to complete the recruit school. 

“I came into the fire service later in life. I didn't start early, so it challenged me to be better and to continue learning,” Forbes Johnson said. 

The Charlotte North Rotary Club began presenting annual Community Service Above Self Awards in May 1982 to recognize the contributions of first responders and other public service personnel who put their lives on the line daily to make Charlotte and Mecklenburg County a better place to live.

“Back in 1982, club officers decided to recognize a firefighter of the year because Charlotte area firefighters put their lives at risk every day of the week to protect the lives and property of the Charlotte public. Unfortunately, firefighters do not receive the recognition they deserve for their efforts,” said Jim Narus, awards committee chairperson for Charlotte North Rotary Club.

Charlotte Firehouse 38 is where Forbes Johnson serves. Home to Engine and Fire Boat 38, Forbes Johnson is part of a specialized dive and rescue swim team that responds to a multitude of needs. 

The Charlotte fire crew rescues, recovers, and responds when called on and supplies firefighting tactics on land and on the lake, along with providing water supply to neighboring communities on the shoreline.

“Firefighting has been a rewarding career and pathway for me because it’s an opportunity to be able to help folks in my community. It’s a great way to also teach my sons about how to help their community and the things that I've instilled in them as they've grown up,” she said.

Forbes Johnson is a steward of the community and volunteers her time to ensure a better life for others.

"Helping others, what I like to call servant leadership, so you need to serve others and give of yourself. There’s so much more than yourself to give to the world, and personally with our faith we're challenged to do that as well,” she said.

Her service seems to have no end. As a founding member of Charlotte Fire’s youth camps for kids, Forbes Johnson is also part of Charlotte Fire’s peer support team that helps firefighters who are struggling with emotions. 

“I have had the honor to help many of my peers and companies in various situations as part of the peer support team,” she said. “I became an EMS and fire instructor and am part of the team that teaches and certifies our recruits and runs in-service for the department.”

“We have an incredible number of firefighters who serve our community beyond their jobs. So many Charlotte firefighters, including Firefighter Forbes Johnson, give from their heart and do it with a love to help those in need,” said Charlotte Fire Chief Reginald Johnson.

Forbes Johnson’s credentials are extensive, and she has achieved many certifications since joining Charlotte Fire in aircraft and rescue, dive, swift water, boat operator, urban search and rescue. She is also a member of Charlotte Fire’s special operations team, the state medical and assistance team, and NC Task Force 3. 

"For women and girls who want to explore something they didn't think would be open to them, I would tell (them) that you can do anything you put your mind to. It doesn't matter if you're a guy or a girl. If you want something, you must work hard for it. Jump out there and challenge yourself and do new things,” she said.

Beyond anything else, Forbes Johnson is first and foremost, a mother.

“My greatest achievement is my three teenage sons. They are incredible human beings with servant’s hearts. One of our favorite things to do together is to serve the developmentally challenged community. The boys and I have been involved with exceptional children’s classes in their elementary school, Special Olympics, and special friends for many years,” she said.

Charlotte North Rotary Club is a community service organization that aims to provide humanitarian assistance, encourage high ethical standards, and promote goodwill.