HARRISONBURG — For the last four decades, volunteer firefighter Don Holsinger bolted for the door whenever he heard the fire station’s siren and later, his pager, notifying him of a potential blaze.
Whether it was the middle of the night, while he was at the office or even when he was eating dinner with his family, the 59-year-old sprang into action to help his community.
“Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day and you decide what your priorities are,” said Holsinger, the oldest active volunteer firefighter at Hose Company No. 4. “My priority has been to help my neighbors.”
As he and other firefighters observe Fire Prevention Week, Holsinger said the attention it brings is sorely needed.
“It’s an ongoing struggle for the department,” he said of the difficulty in getting the public to realize fires don’t just happen to other people. “Prevention is the key.”
Joining The Force
As a teenager, Holsinger worked at Charles and Jim Werner’s mom-and-pop grocery store, Warner’s Market, on South High Street, where Taste of Thai now stands.
The owners were longtime volunteer firefighters, who would often leave the store to go fight fires.
“Occasionally, I’d get to go with them on a call,” he said. “It just kind of piqued my interest.”
In 1971, he turned 18 and joined the now defunct volunteer Fire Company No. 1 in Harrisonburg.
Two years later, he joined Hose Company No. 4, which now operates two volunteer stations, one at the Harrisonburg Fire Department on Rock Street, and the other on Port Republic Road, near Rockingham Memorial Hospital.
Over the years, he’s battled countless big blazes, but the first came in 1973.
“The first big one I remember is the Schewels furniture off of South Main Street, behind where Buffalo Wild Wings is now,” said Holsinger, who was then a student at Madison College, now James Madison University. “I cut classes all day to fight that fire.”
He later went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Madison and works as a tax auditor with the Virginia Department of Taxation.
The most recent big blaze was at Dave’s Recycling on South High Street in April 2008.
“That was a huge one. A couple of days later you [still] feel it,” he said of the toll fighting a large fire takes. “The heat … it’s just a tiring job. There’s a lot of pressure on that hose. It takes a lot of muscle power to keep it under control and you’re holding it constantly for hours.”
Despite the hard work, he said he has no plans on retiring.
His family also volunteers with Hose Company No. 4. His daughter, Angie Holsinger, 31, is a firefighter and EMT. Her husband, Russell Holsinger, 32, is a lieutenant, and their daughter, Kimmie, 13, is a junior member.
Angie Holsinger, who said she grew up hanging out at the firehouse playing basketball, joined the company when she was 15.
She said she joined the department because of her dad.
“I’ve always been proud of him and all of the hours he’s dedicated,” she said.
Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or email@example.com