Hip leads Coal City chief to step down early
By BRIAN STANLEY email@example.com May 8, 2012 11:40PM
Morris Fire Chief Robert Coleman (left) and Coal City Fire Chief Ret. Harold Holsinger receive custom made fire extinguisher lamps as they are honored during the Chief Shabbona annual Pow Wow Fire School at the Exelon Midwest Fire Training Academy in Morris, Sunday May 6, 2012.| Ray Luna ~ For Sun-Times Media
Going out on top
Besides looking back on 40 years as a Coal City firefighter, Harold Holsinger is also going out on top.
Wednesday, he’ll be named Fire Chief of the Year by the Illinois Fire Chief’s Association at a ceremony in Peoria. Holsinger was selected as the award recipient as head of a department that has both paid employees and volunteers, while each also have their own categories.
Holsinger was nominated for the award by his fellow fire chiefs, including Braidwood’s Ken Heberer.
“Chief Holsinger has been a good example of the qualities a chief should have. He’s always wanted younger firefighters to learn as much as they could and he’s worked to share his experience with other departments, not just his own,” Heberer said.
Holsinger said capping his career with the award is a “humbling experience” but said a good leader doesn’t accomplish anything without good people on the department.
“I’m proud of all of them. I didn’t do anything others wouldn’t. I’ve just been the one who had the opportunity,” Holsinger said.
The Coal City Fire Department will hold an open house to celebrate Holsinger’s career from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Station 1, 35 S. DeWitt Place.
— Brian Stanley
Updated: June 11, 2012 8:29AM
COAL CITY — Harold Holsinger’s bad hip forced him to retire as Coal City fire chief a couple months earlier than he’d planned.
But then if it wasn’t for the hip, his career choices may have never led him to firefighting in the first place.
Holsinger grew up downstate in London Mills, where he was an active participant in 4-H programs. His family moved to Morris in 1958 when he started high school.
“My father worked at Caterpillar and went to work in Aurora. I thought when I got out of high school I’d work for Cat, too, but they wouldn’t hire me because of my right hip,” Holsinger said. With a condition that left one leg slightly shorter than the other, Holsinger spent weeks in the hospital as a youngster. But despite a lifelong limp and needing to use lifts in his shoe, Holsinger worked construction jobs and spent six years at the Joliet Arsenal before working 30 years as an operator and supervisor at Exxon Mobil.
Besides starting at Exxon Mobil in 1972, Holsinger also married his wife, Faye, and bought a house in Coal City where his brother-in-law was on the fire department.
“I’d been trained in first aid at the arsenal and wanted to do something in the community so they asked if I was interested in joining the Emergency Squad,” Holsinger said. While housed at the fire department, the separate group of volunteers ran ambulance calls, typically for traffic accidents and heart attacks.
“There was CPR and the Heimlich manuever was just coming in, but there were no IVs or any equipment like that, it was just load and go,” Holsinger recalled.
But working night shifts at the refinery meant his days were “free,” which made him a desirable candidate for the fire department since most of the 20 members at the time had day jobs.
“The first big fire I went to was the house directly across the alley (from mine). I didn’t go to the station, I just walked across the street. I didn’t really have a lot of training then so it stands out,” Holsinger said.
Holsinger believes the focus that’s now put on training has been the biggest improvement he’s witnessed and implemented during his career, especially after becoming chief in 1991.
“It’s fair to say I’m the transition between the old school and formal training,” he admitted. “When I started the old chief felt if we needed to know it, he’d teach us and if he didn’t then it wasn’t important.”
But Holsinger thinks the cost of training is money well spent compared to the insurance and legal expenses that can be saved, besides noting how it can serve the community.
After 20 years of representing the department among the community, Holsinger stepped down as chief last month after long planning to retire this summer.
“The hip’s lasted this long, but it has to be replaced. It got to be hard getting up and put the gear on in the middle of the night,” he said.
Besides golfing when he gets back on his feet, Holsinger hopes to spend more time with his two children and three grandchildren.