Holly vanSchaick is the new fire chief for Orcas Island Fire & Rescue. The Board of Fire Commissioners appointed Chief vanSchaick at the Regular Meeting on August 21, 2023.
Commissioner Stameisen (also a volunteer with OIFR) said, “I did start in this industry 45 years ago… And I have worked under many chiefs. I would say, Holly, you rate amongst the top.”
Commissioner Fuller explained during the meeting that the hiring process for the Assistant Chief carried out in 2021 included a continuity of operations plan (COOP). The BOFC thought it was necessary to ensure a smooth transition from Assistant Chief to Chief should the succession be necessary. vanSchaick was the top performer of 10 applicants at the time of her hiring, with support from many members of the department and the community who were involved in the hiring process.
Having a COOP that plans for the succession of the Fire Chief position ensures a smooth transition of leadership, maintains operational readiness, utilizes existing expertise, and mitigates potential challenges. It ultimately strengthens OIFR’s ability to serve the community effectively and maintain public trust in times of change.
At the BOFC Regular Meeting, Commissioner Fuller shared Chief vanSchaick’s Letter of Intent and supporting attachments, which included a letter from the All-American Leadership program CEO, Rob Neilsen, in support of Chief vanSchaick and describes the current state of the internal culture at OIFR. Using data derived from multiple surveys starting in 2022, Mr. Nielsen is able to do an evidenced-based assessment of the well-being, culture, and anxiety rating of department members across all ranks.
In a letter to the BOFC describing the current state of OIFR, Rob Neilsen stated, “Chief vanSchaick ranks among the very best leaders I have worked with in the fire service. Her professionalism, integrity, and communication skills are top-notch. Further, the commitment, empathy, and compassion she demonstrates toward people, both on her team and within her service area, are inspiring.”
The Volunteer Officers of OIFR also submitted an endorsement letter to the board stating, “In [vanSchaick’s] words and in her actions, it is clear that she views a strong relationship between the [career and volunteer officers] to be critical to the effective operation of the department. Having started as a volunteer before becoming career, she understands the needs, as well as the pressures and expectations, of both groups… We believe that the culture that she has fostered since joining OIFR is one that will be critical to the future successes of OIFR and urge you to appoint her as our new Chief.”
“The whole feeling of the department is very different than it was two years ago,” said Commissioner Templin, “It's really nice to see that.”
“We proudly endorse Assistant Chief Holly vanSchaick for the esteemed position of Fire Chief...[her]unparalleled experience, exceptional qualifications, and unwavering commitment to our community make her the ideal candidate for this historic appointment,” wrote Local 3911 President Danny Weibling in the union’s endorsement letter, “Not only will her promotion to Fire Chief break barriers for women in our profession, but it will also inspire the next generation of firefighters, irrespective of gender, to pursue their aspirations relentlessly.”
Chief vanSchaick joined Orcas Island Fire & Rescue in December of 2021 as the Assistant Chief and as a responding Fire/Medic, unique to most fire administrations. She started her career as a volunteer Firefighter/EMT with Bainbridge Island Fire Department in 2007, graduated from Fire Academy in 2009, and from paramedic school at Tacoma Community College in 2010, where she finished at the top of her class. Chief vanSchaick went on in 2010 to become the first female Firefighter Paramedic for the City of Sunnyside in Yakima County while continuing to volunteer in her home community, eventually becoming the MSO and second in command of the Bainbridge Island Ambulance Association. Most recently, Chief vanSchaick completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Fire Service Administration, graduating with a 4.0 in her field of study and Magna Cum Laude overall.
In her time as a first responder, vanSchaick also held positions as an EMS instructor, disaster response field paramedic and instructor for Medical Teams International, field training officer, and liaison between Central Skagit Medic One and Sedo-Woolley Fire Department.
OIFR is grateful for Chief vanSchaick’s ongoing commitment to our department and our community's well-being.