Robert Holland was born to serve in times of crisis.
The paramedic and longtime volunteer with the Harlem Volunteer Fire Department was celebrated at a banquet Monday as the department’s 2013 Firefighter of the Year.
“He’s very dedicated to the department and very dedicated to the city and is just a wonderful asset to the department,” said Chief Tripp Lonergan.
Recipients of the annual award are chosen by the department’s upper command staff, Lonergan said.
Holland is retired from the U.S. Army Reserve and was a paramedic and a Columbia County sheriff’s deputy.
He’s been volunteering with the fire department in Harlem, where he moved to more than 30 years ago, for 28 years.
Lonergan said Holland responds to about 95 percent of medical and fire calls and about 95 percent of organized department training.
“If I’m in town, I’m going to go,” Holland said. “I guess it’s in my blood.”
Holland said he rode an ambulance as a paramedic in Columbia County since 1973 through University Hospital and Columbia County Emergency Medical Service.
He’d regularly end up working on fire scenes with members of the Harlem department. The first fire he helped fight was at Patsy’s Pastries in Harlem in 1975.
“I was working with a fireman and before I knew it, I ended up, with no turnout gear, fighting fire with the department in Harlem,” Holland said.
It was after Holland provided medical care to Virginia Clary, former mayor Ed Clary’s mother, after she was pulled from a house fire in January 1986, that department officials asked him to officially join the team.
“They said I wouldn’t have to go in any house fires,” Holland said. “Later on, it didn’t work out that way. All I need to do is stand by and provide medical.”
Holland’s expertise comes in handy around the department. He’s a CPR instructor and teaches some of the department’s medical courses.
As a paramedic, Holland was activated in the reserves from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2007 to 2011, when he trained medics during pre-deployment exercises.
He officially retired from everything except the fire department in October.
“I’m happy to do it,” Holland said. “I feel like I’m contributing something to my community.
“I’m just happy to be there when I’m needed.”
After his nearly 30 years with the department, Holland distinctly recalls building equipment to go on the fire trucks and many cold and noisy winter nights spent in the former railroad switchhouse behind the old firehouse on the tracks.
And he’s seen a lot of changes.
“I am every proud of some of the new equipment that we have here,” Holland said, standing in the bay of the city’s new public safety headquarters among shiny new fire trucks.”
But it is participating in community events like the Christmas parade and the now-defunct barbecue fundraiser during the Oliver Hardy Festival that Holland said he really enjoys.
“It has always been a very family-oriented organization.”
Though Holland has more free time since he retired, it’s his loyalty and dedication to sharing his medical expertise that make him stand out.
“He’s made every public event that we’re involved in,” Lonergan said. “He always gets there early, stays late. He’s always there to give a helping hand, anything.”