Kansas City firefighter Stephen Johnson is a man who is used to rescuing others and a hero to so many, including to his own five children. In 2004, called to the scene of a house explosion in south Kansas City, Stephen risked his own life to save a paramedic, Mary Seymour, who had been shot when she came under fire from a nearby house. Mary, who nominated the Johnson family to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, recalls that Stephen led the arriving pack of firefighters who saved her life by first controlling her bleeding and administering oxygen, then carrying her across the exposed area to an ambulance. With no thought to his own safety, Stephen braved gunfire and explosions to pull her out of harm’s way.
But his heroism isn’t all on the job. Besides raising three kids of his own – Stephen Jr., 18, Duane, 14 and Gina, 12—Stephen rescued two neighborhood kids, Brandon, 15, and Ryan, 13, from the foster care system after their adoptive mother passed away. When Duane pleaded with his father to save Brandon and Ryan from being separated from everything they’d ever known, Stephen didn’t flinch. Understanding the two boys’ need to have not only love but also a positive male role model in their lives, he took up the challenge and is now their hero too.
But the house they all live in is small and, for lack of space, Brandon and Ryan live in a cold and uncomfortable basement. Still, they’re warmed by the knowledge that their new father is doing the best he can to make their lives better. The other children have also had to make sacrifices since Brandon and Ryan joined the family, but as Duane says, “I gained two brothers, and that’s better.”
On his off days from his 24-hour shift at the firehouse, Stephen comes home from his other jobs at the barbershop or as a window washer to cook dinner and help the kids with their homework. This unrelenting schedule leaves little time to address the numerous problems in their 1200-square-foot ranch house. Some of these include windows that leak cold air and water, and a roof that has become so damaged that water now drips down into the walls. Stephen gave up his one luxury in the house, the master bedroom, so that his daughter, the only female in the home, could have her own bathroom. Meanwhile, all the men in the house share one other bathroom, which is in a state of severe disrepair.
Stephen raises his children with the selfless edict that one does all one can, and then some. He’s also a pillar of support for his sister and mother. He stays strong for his family, as a dad, a brother and a son, and he stays strong for his community as a firefighter. For all that Stephen Johnson has done to help others, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition wants to step in and build a house that will give this real-life hero and his family a fresh start.
The design team, homebuilder Kevin Green Homes, plus hundreds of crew members and volunteers joined forces to transform the house. Also, Trent Green and Tony Richardson from the Kansas City Chiefs came by to lend a helping hand. Meanwhile, the Johnson family enjoyed a vacation at Disney World.