SUSSEX - Even though by birth, newly-elected Fire Chief David Johnsen isn't a Wisconsin native, his strong ties to the Wisconsin fire community reach Sussex and beyond.
Arguably, one of the most interesting connections Johnsen has to Sussex is deeply rooted in his fire education.
Former Sussex Fire Chief Colin "Corky" Curtis was one of Johnsen's instructors in his very first fire service class at WCTC.
While Curtis doesn't remember Johnsen as a student from all those years back, the pair have been in close communication recently.
"I’ve talked to him over the last couple of months as the transition started," Curtis said. "He’s running into a wonderful department, just a great community, and he’s going to do wonders for the Village of Sussex. I’m very excited for him and the department.”
As for Curtis, he's enjoying his retirement and said he "highly recommends it" to all.
Upbringing in Wisconsin
Johnsen was born in Evergreen Park, Illinois, but moved with his family to Wisconsin in 1970.
“So, for all practical purposes, I was raised in Wisconsin," Johnsen said.
He graduated from Catholic Memorial High School in Waukesha in 1984.
"I’m a little more of a hometown boy than people may realize," Johnsen said. "That being said, my wife was born and raised in Manitowoc, so a lot of our family is from Wisconsin and still lives in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has always been home to us even after 25 years.”
It was his experience seeing the camaraderie of the firefighters in Hales Corners, where he spent much of his youth, that led him to a career in fire service.
"I grew up in a neighborhood where there were a lot of paid, on-call firefighters for Hales Corners," Johnsen said. "With fire service, it’s one of those things where you either have it or you don’t. It’s that desire to be part of the community and help the community; that combined with the camaraderie drew me to it.”
Addressing Sussex growth
Growth is expected to steadily rise in Sussex, so much so, that as of this month, the Hamilton School District has formulated a Community Facilities Advisory Committee to study how classroom space is being utilized, and to ultimately present a recommendation(s) to the board on how to address the issue.
Johnsen said one of his main goals in office pertains to this topic.
"As far as moving forward, we have to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the community, and as Sussex continues to grow, which there’s anticipated growth in the community, we have to be prepared proactively to meet those needs in the community," Johnsen said.
Immersing in the community
As Johnsen prepares to take office this month, his family is selling its home in Illinois and finding a home in the Sussex area.
From the beginning of his interview process for fire chief, Johnsen said he felt at home.
“Sussex is that small-town, hometown feel," Johnsen said. "From the day that I started the process, we felt as if we were part of the community immediately; there was an immediate connection to Sussex.”
To better familiarize himslf with the community, Johnsen invites community members to drop by the department to meet him after he officially steps into the role of fire chief on Feb. 27.