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Holsinger receives 'Chief of the Year' award

Coal City's retiring fire chief humble about statewide honor

Harold Holsinger, the retiring fire chief of Coal City Fire Protection District, receives the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association's 2012 Fire Chief of the Year award.
Harold Holsinger, the retiring fire chief of Coal City Fire Protection District, receives the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association's 2012 Fire Chief of the Year award.

COAL CITY — A recently retired area fire chief received statewide recognition Wednesday at a ceremony held in Peoria, Ill.

Harold Holsinger received his award as the Illinois Fire Chiefs Association's 2012 Fire Chief of the Year.

"It's humbling," he said. "That's not what I do this for — you do what you can to make your community better, and it takes an awful lot of good people to do that."

During the presentation, association officials spoke about Holsinger's tenure with Coal City Fire Protection District, including his 40 years of service, 21 of of those as chief. They also spoke about his contributions to fire prevention and the department's car-seat program.

Even though the award has his name on it, Holsinger gives credit to others who have helped make it possible — from the teams surrounding him to the people who came before him.

"There's no fire chief in the world who can do the accomplishments I feel we've done since I was chief. There's no way any chief can do that by himself," he said. "It takes a lot of people to step forward and do that ... I was fortunate to be there and have some awfully good people to work with, and I think we've accomplished a lot."  

Holsinger's work as a first responder in Coal City started when he joined the Coal City Emergency Squad in 1972. That was Coal City's ambulance service, which was a separate entity from the fire department. Later that year, he became a firefighter and joined the department. He rose through the ranks and was appointed to the position of chief in 1991.

Holsinger said he's seen a lot of changes over the years, including seeing the fire protection district's formation, expanding the department to include ambulance service, and eventually including certified firefighters and ambulance service that is certified to provide advanced life support care. Another change was bringing the department from an all-volunteer department to one with part-time and paid on-call firefighters.

"I think we provide a lot better training as a fire department and a lot better service to the community than we did 21 years ago," he said.  

Firefighter paramedic Nick Doerfler said the department is excited that Holsinger received the award.

"It's definitely an honor to have worked for the chief," he said. "He was definitely very instrumental in the department in his last 20 years, bringing us to where we're at today. We couldn't be more happy for him to receive the award — he's extremely deserving of the award."

While Holsinger is humble about his accomplishments, Doerfler said the now-former chief is more than worthy of the title.

"He has brought a lot of progress to Coal City, bringing it from a volunteer department to a combination department of paid on-call and part-time firefighters," he said. "He's been extremely progressive in all areas, including personnel and equipment. I know the department as a whole is extremely proud of him for all he has done for us."

On Saturday, the community is invited to stop by the department's Station #1, located at 35 S. DeWitt Place in Coal City, for an open house honoring Holsinger's retirement. The event will take place from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Jean Lissy, administrative assistant for the department, said the open house is basically a time to meet and greet the newly-retired chief.

"Basically, it's just an opportunity for people to wish him well," she said.

Lissy said the department will miss Holsinger. She's worked with him for eight years and said she's enjoyed working with him.

"It's been super. I couldn't have asked for a better boss," she said.

Lissy said Holsinger was a good listener who genuinely cared about his employees.

"He's a very personable person, and he never thought he was better than anybody," she said. "He always put you first."

Holsinger's last official day was April 30, and he has since turned over the reins to Chief James Sheldon. He said he doesn't have any big plans for retirement — he hopes to golf and fish with his grandchildren. He and his wife also have plans to stay local.

"We're pretty much Coal City folks who will stay close to home," he said. 

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