When the official changing of the guard happens at the Cambria Fire Department — which is expected to occur May 27 — the town will have a fire chief who will oversee and defend turf he knows well and has loved for most of his life.
William Hollingsworth’s appointment to fire chief was announced last month by Jerry Gruber, general manager of the Cambria Community Services District. Negotiations concluded last week, Hollingsworth told members of the Cambria Fire Safe Focus Group on May 11, adding that he expects his employment contract will go before the services district board for approval May 26.
Details of the contract were not available at press deadline.
However, board President Gail Robinette introduced Hollingsworth as the new chief at the board’s April 28 meeting, and he was welcomed with warm applause by the directors and audience members, so getting a final stamp of approval on his contract is not expected to be problematic.
The new chief, 45, had been a Cambria Fire captain since 2005, and was a paramedic/emergency medical technician/shift supervisor at Cambria Community Healthcare District for a decade before that. The breadth and length of Hollingsworth’s local emergency-services experience was an important asset when Gruber was considering whom to elevate to the post, the general manager told The Cambrian.
In an interview this month, the new fire chief mused about his long ties to the North Coast.
The Hollingsworth family moved to Cambria in 1976, when William was about 5 years old, he recalled.
His dad, David Hollingsworth, became pastor at First Baptist Church, a post he held for more than 30 years. The senior Hollingsworth died four years ago; family matriarch Kathy Hollingsworth lives in Indianapolis.
William Hollingsworth attended grades 1 through 12 in the Cambria school system. He attended Cuesta College for a couple of years, also studying at Allan Hancock. After attending “about a dozen different schools, because that’s how fire technology” training works, he said, “I got my paramedic license at Stanford University.”
Hollingsworth received his bachelor’s degree in science/fire service administration last month from Waldorf University.
Through all that, he and wife Jandee had two children, now ages 15 and 13.
But their family wasn’t complete. After fostering three siblings for nearly two years, the Hollingsworths now are trying to adopt the two toddler-age boys and a girl.
“We’d always talked about having a large family,” but Jandee Hollingsworth’s second pregnancy was a difficult one, and they didn’t want her to go through that again. They discussed fostering, “but the time wasn’t right.”
Then, as the couple was on “a rare date without the kids,” William Hollingsworth said, the topic “came up as a fluke, and we realized that the timing was right this time, and it fit into the plan God had for us.”
Qualifying as foster parents can be a long, arduous, emotional process, he said, “with training, safety checks, first aid training, background checks through the Department of Justice, site evaluations. It took a couple of months.”
Then the process went into warp speed: They were certified to become foster parents, “and less than two hours later, we got the call. We jumped in, even though we weren’t planning on three kids.”
Hollingsworth laughed a bit and said, “You learn to be careful what you ask for.”
If qualifying as foster parents is complex, becoming adoptive parents is exponentially more so.
The couple hopes that process will be complete by the end of this year.
“This is a fantastic, very exciting time for our agency,” the chief said. That follows a tumultuous time after the retirement of former chief Mark Miller, with CCSD opting to have Cal Fire manage the department while the directors sorted out Cambria Fire’s future. After months of research, the board decided to keep the department in house, rather than jobbing it out to Cal Fire.
Hollingsworth said the past year has seen the department “make a lot of progress” under the leadership of Cal Fire Battalion Chief Eric Shalhoob. “I couldn’t have asked to come into a better situation than what he specifically has helped me do.”
Cal Fire “did such a fantastic job, providing the right leadership, allaying the fears, making everybody aware of their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. It’s been a good, eye-opening experience.”
Hollingsworth’s dreams for his department include having “some kind of consolidated emergency services” for the North Coast, depending on what the services district and healthcare district boards decide. “I think that would provide the best level of service for the community, and I’m eager to facilitate that if that’s the direction they want to go.”
He also wants to help find funding to keep on staff three recently hired firefighters, whose wages are currently paid by a grant. Keeping them “is crucial, because of our isolation.” Having four firefighters on an engine is a safety issue for fire victims and personnel, he said.
Looking back, Hollingsworth said, “I told Eric (Shalhoob) if he’d asked me to be a player at this level a year ago, I may have mentally thought I was ready to do that, but I was not. And I can tell you that I am now.”
Kathe Tanner: 805-927-4140