Holland Named First Female Deputy Fire Coordinator
WESTFIELD — A discussion more than 25 years ago between Marsha Holland, her sister and a friend helped set into motion a volunteer firefighting career that has now culminated into a trail-blazing leadership position.
Holland recently became the first female named a deputy fire coordinator in Chautauqua County. The appointment, which became official Aug. 12, means the Westfield resident oversees the second battalion that is comprised of 10 fire departments — Brocton, Chautauqua, Dewittville, Findley Lake, Hartfield, Mayville, Portland, Ripley, Sherman and Westfield.
When three or more departments are summoned on any given call, Holland assists local fire officials and provides additional resources when needed.
Holland, a native of Erie, Pa., did not grow up envisioning a two decade volunteer career in the fire service. In fact, no one in her family had ever been a firefighter. However, following a talk with her sister and a friend — then chief of a local fire department — the seed was planted in Holland.
Following a Cub Scout meeting for her son in 1995, Holland decided to stop at the Westfield fire hall and grab an application to become a member.
“We were on our way home and just decided to stop,” Holland said. “Someone just happened to be there at the fire hall and gave me a tour.”
That person turned out to be Lyle, now her husband and a member of the fire department for more than 40 years.
Upon joining, Holland quickly became immersed in the fire service.
“Once I got in it was like, ‘Wow, I like doing this,'” she recalled. “I took course after course. That tends to happen when you’re new. I just kept going. It was being an interior (firefighter) that was the most fun.”
For the last two and a half decades, Holland — a retired Chautauqua County employee in the finance department — has held numerous positions within the Westfield Fire Department. In addition to being a firefighter and emergency medical technician, she has served as assistant fire chief; captain and lieutenant of the department’s rescue squad; and served as the department’s secretary for 13 years.
She was the first female president of the Southwestern Association of Volunteer Firemen and is a nationally certified fire prevention and life safety educator.
A fire at a Westfield apartment complex early in her tenure still stands out among other memories.
“It got really hot in there,” Holland said. “I think it was pretty much my first interior assignment and I was with another firefighter who was kind of the lead person when he said, ‘We got to go.’ It got really hot; we went out of the window onto a balcony 6-feet-wide.”
Holland was recently encouraged by fellow members to apply for the deputy fire coordinator position.
“I think it’s still out there that there’s this notion that women can’t do the job or that maybe guys don’t want to have to answer to women. I think that’s still out there,” she said.
Holland said it is her desire to set an example for other women who are in the fire service to show that they, too, can attain leadership roles.
“I’m kind of hoping it can be an inspiration for others who might be struggling moving up,” she said.
Her first incident as second battalion deputy fire coordinator took place Sept. 15 for a mobile home fire in the town of Portland. Holland made contact with the family who owned the home, which was destroyed in the blaze, and began the process to notify the American Red Cross to arrange temporary housing, while also summoning the county Fire Investigation Team to determine the cause.