Young hero saved his grandmother, neighbours from a Burnaby blaze

Mayor Mike Hurley said Josh Johnson, 11, has a guaranteed spot in the fire department's youth academy when he gets to Grade 11.

When 11-year-old Josh Johnson’s home was destroyed by fire two years ago, it left an emotional scar he’s still dealing with today – but it could have been much worse for others if he hadn’t been home that day.

“I woke up, went to go to the bathroom and get a cup of water, and I was staring out at my TV and then all I heard was like a window smash, and I looked at the window, and all I saw was fire,” he said.

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Josh, who was nine years old at the time, said he screamed at his grandmother to wake up. The two had fallen asleep on the couch watching a movie. It was about 11:30 p.m. on June 2, 2018.

His 13-year-old brother was at a sleepover, and his uncle and parents were out at a birthday celebration.

But Josh, in bare feet, ran and alerted two sets of neighbours next door in the fourplex at 5605 Royal Oak Ave.

house fire
Fire gutted part of this fourplex at 5605 Royal Oak Ave. on June 2, 2018. It has since been demolished. - Cornelia Naylor

By the time fire crews arrived the building was “fully involved,” with flames visible and thick, black smoke billowing, according to senior fire Captain Roger Lynch.

“If he wouldn’t have alerted people, there definitely would have been some injuries or possible fatalities for sure,” he told the NOW. “We go to these on a regular basis, and it’s amazing how little fire it takes to kill people. So you pull up to something like that where it’s pretty spectacular, and you think for sure there’s going to be injuries, and it ends up there’s none.”

But fire wasn’t entirely without casualties. Although a neighbour had managed to rescue one of the family’s cats, the other – a shy kitty named Spike who hid from rescue – perished in the blaze.

That loss and the rest of the ordeal left a mark on Josh, whose mom eventually sought counselling for her once fun-loving, goofy boy who became depressed and angry after the fire.

“Sometimes he thinks about our cat and he gets sad,” she said.

A year ago, Rika said Josh didn’t want to hear anything about his actions being brave or him being a hero.

With time and some outside help, though, that’s changed, and this week he was excited to accept a bravery award from the Burnaby Fire Department exactly two years after the fire.

It took a while for Josh’s acts of bravery to come to the attention of the fire department.

Rika, a nurse at Royal Columbian Hospital, had told the tale to Burnaby RCMP Const. Cody Perrin at work one day, and he recommended getting in touch with the fire department.

fire hero
Josh's mom, brother and grandmother look on as he receives his award. - Cornelia Naylor

Josh was still reluctant to accept any praise for his actions at that time, but once he was ready, deputy fire Chief Darcey O’Riordan felt it was a no-brainer that the youngster should be recognized.

“As soon as the officer came in, I thought, ‘Oh, we have to do something for this young guy because it’s an amazing thing he did,’” O’Riordan told the NOW.

Acting fire Chief Chris Bowcock presented Josh with an award for bravery Tuesday afternoon in the presence of his family, firefighters, Mounties, Mayor Mike Hurley and other city bigwigs. 

“You embody all the things that this great city is about,” Bowcock said to Josh at the ceremony. “You showed great character, and for that we’d like to acknowledge you today.”

Along with a certificate from the city recognizing his heroism, Hurley gave Josh a guaranteed spot in the city’s youth fire academy once he gets to Grade 11.

 Josh told the NOW he was grateful for the award and would “probably” take the city up on its youth academy offer when he’s older.

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