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First Black female firefighter paramedic speaks of her time in Corpus Christi

Coastal Bend Black Excellence
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Posted at 11:20 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-14 11:06:34-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Firefighters protect their community, help their neighbors and on their worst days, make friends that last a lifetime.

This Coastal Bend Black Excellence focuses on the first and only African American female firefighter paramedic in Corpus Christi.

“I needed a job and I used to be a secretary and I had two kids and I was a single mom," Deborah Johnson said.

Deborah Johnson moved from Waco to Corpus Christi in 1975.

When she had an office job, Johnson said a man joked to her about the Corpus Christi Fire Department hiring, and that she should apply. So she did.

“Because I knew you know the hoses were big, they got a lot bigger but I knew that so I started running. I always ran a little bit, but I would run five days a week, six miles a day," said Johnson.

And from flipping tires to signing up for a gym membership, Johnson said she was determined to get the job to support her family and prove to the man who laughed at her she could do anything.

“It was July 18, 1977, I became a firefighter paramedic," Johnson said.

James Brown, a retired captain of the Corpus Christi Fire Department told us he doesn’t make light of Johnson being the first African American female in the Corpus Christi Fire Department.

“It’s a significant moment in time or history, significant event," said Brown.

In a career field that is predominantly dominated by white males, Brown said Johnson was the person to squash any stereotypes people may have had.

“About the capabilities or lack of capabilities of women, particularly Black women," Brown added.

And from working all the different stations across the Coastal Bend. Her favorite?

“I love station eight, because it was real busy, and it kept you on top of your skills," said Johnson.

Johnson said being the first to do anything is always hard.

Throughout her career, she had to be strong mentally and physically. And if there is another African American woman looking to follow in her footsteps:

“I would say never let somebody tell you what you can't do," said Johnson.

And what does Coastal Bend Black Excellence mean to her?

“Everything should be culturally excellent. It’s not about a segment of people. We all should be striving to just be who God created us to be," she said.

Johnson retired in 2006 after 29 years as a firefighter paramedic.

If you would like to nominate someone for the Coastal Bend Black Excellence series, you can reach out to Corderro McMurry here.