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Fire Department Expands Staff
An extensive search, looking for someone to fill a newly created position requiring many hats to be worn, resulted in the hiring of Catherine Johns as the new administrative assistant/finance clerk for the Escalon Fire Department.

She has settled in to the job, joining the department in February, and is there five days a week.

"I support the chief with all the administrative duties, I do accounts payable for the fire department, take care of all the benefit packages, the health care, dental, vision," Johns explained. "I also do a lot of reports for the county that are required of the fire department."

Now spending most of her time at a desk and often on a computer, Johns has also been on the other side of the fire service.

"I was actually a fire engineer with San Jose Fire for 11 years," she said. "I got my Firefighter I (One) and my EMT."

After 11 years of running fires and accidents, Johns traded in that career for time spent as a mom, with three children at home.

"I gave up my career to raise my kids, though I worked part time the whole time," she said.

Now that her children are older - with a 19-year-old in college as well as a 16-year-old and an 11-year-old - Johns said it was time to get back to full time work.

She also gets off at 3 p.m., a time she said is "perfect" because it allows her to be home for her kids after school and to attend any activities they are involved in.

Johns has extensive administrative credentials, having worked as a legal secretary and administrative assistants for lawyers in the past. She previously worked in the Bay area "eons ago" when she was in her 20s, she noted.

After graduating from high school, she went to business college, got her degree and started working in Oakland, commuting from Fremont on BART. Her husband was with the Alameda County Fire Service and he has been a firefighter for 25 year.

And even while Johns said she loved her work in the field, it was time to switch gears.

"I was on a truck company so I really enjoyed doing rescue and a lot of ladder work," she explained. "I worked at very busy houses (in San Jose) and I loved it, I love the EMS part."

Don't expect to see her hopping on an Escalon rig, though, as she's content now to offer her expertise in the paperwork and reporting end of things, keeping everything up to date.

"At this time of my life, I enjoy the quiet and this has come full circle for me," she said. "I couldn't ask for anything better."

Fire Chief Rick Mello said the position is officially an Administrative Assistant and Finance Clerk and was a post they needed to fill, with the added burden of financial reporting and accounting becoming too much to handle without assistance.

"We were paying for outside services," Mello said of contracting for payroll and other finance issues that can now be brought in house.

There were over 200 applicants for the Escalon job, he added, and the fire department worked with an official from the CEA, California Employers Association, to narrow it down.

"There were some with many different categories of experience," Mello explained. "We ended up with 18 finalists."

Mello and fire board member Dan Keyser did the final interviews, settling on Johns.

"She had both private and public sector experience and she had been on the line and on the administrative side of a fire department," Mello said. "You don't see that too often."