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New Fire Chief Looking Forward To Serving

The Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Board on Tuesday confirmed the appointment of Garrett Holderman as the Territory’s new fire chief, replacing Mike Wilson. Pictured (L to R) posing for a “Passing of the Badge” photo are Brandon Schmitt, Board member; Wilson, passing the fire chief’s badge on to Holderman; and Gordon Nash, Board member. The badge was passed on to Wilson from Chief Mike Brubaker in 2015. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Garrett Holderman was motivated to either be a Navy SEAL or a firefighter.

With about 20 years of firefighting experience now under his belt, the Arizona native was confirmed Tuesday by the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory Board to be the Territory’s new chief. He replaces Michael Wilson, who is serving as the community health coordinator handling the CARES program until his official retirement June 1. Wilson served as chief since 2015.

“I got in when 9/11 happened. That’s what made me want to be a fireman,” Holderman said in an interview after the WWFT Board meeting Tuesday. “I wanted to do them (firefighting and military) both. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL, to be completely honest with you. When and while I was talking to the Navy recruiters, that’s when I got my call for a full-time academy at (age) 18. It was either I’m getting this job as a fireman, or I’m going to the Navy.”

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer couldn’t attend Tuesday’s Board meeting, but sent in a letter regarding Holderman’s appointment as chief, which Wilson read.

In part, Thallemer wrote, “Please let this letter serve as my official appointment of Garrett Holderman as chief of the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory, effective immediately. Garrett replaces Mike Wilson, who was appointed to temporarily fill the position by the Board at the January 2022 WWFT board meeting, pending Mr. Holderman’s availability. Mr. Holderman assumed his duties as chief on February 21, 2022.”

He said he appointed Holderman “after an extensive search that yielded 26 candidates from all across the nation.”

The letter also states, “The WWFT is blessed with an exceptionally talented workforce, and I am confident Mr. Holderman has the leadership skills to move the department forward.”

Asked if he wanted to say anything, with his appointment as chief confirmed, Holderman said, “I look forward to it. I appreciate it. It’s been a very welcoming community. I look forward to hitting the ground running and doing the best that I possibly could do. I’ve had nothing but positive vibes since being here, so I appreciate it. Thank you.”

In the interview after the Board meeting, Holderman, 36, said he was born and raised in Arizona. He started in the fire service when he was about 12 as a Cadet/Explorer.

“Did some wildland (forest fires) when I became of age. And then, right when I turned 18, I got into a full-time academy to become a full-time firefighter. (I was) promoted through the ranks up to engineer, to captain to battalion chief, and then, recently, the fire chief of Warsaw,” Holderman said.

He said he’s had 17 full-time years as a firefighter but 21 years of experience.

As for certifications and such, Holderman said he has a lot of executive leadership classes under his belt, including “TEEX, Fire Officer 1, Instructor 1. I obviously have my Firefighter 1 & 2. I am a nationally registered paramedic. ACLS, all those acronyms for EMS. EMS is big, very big out west. It’s much bigger than it is (here). It’s creeping over here – there’s going to be paramedics in each fire department before long – but it’s already happened in the west. So I have a lot of EMS experiences and certifications.”

Holderman has taught a few academies as a Recruit Training Officer (RTO).

“The thing that is unique to me coming here is I’m not accustomed to ice rescues and whatnot. That’s going to be new for me and that’s where I’ve got to use the knowledge of the Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory as a knowledge base and then kind of grow from there and learn that kind of stuff,” he said.

Holderman said he knows the job, he just doesn’t know the area yet, but will. He came to the area with no friends and no enemies and clear eyes with a different perspective.

“Out west, there’s a whole new world of firefighting that I can open the eyes to of our generation coming in. I look forward to doing it. These guys are sharp as tacks. We’ve got some good guys here,” he said.

Holderman comes from the Rural Metro Fire Service in Phoenix, Ariz. He said they had 14 fire stations with 255 people, servicing about 270 square miles. He said it was a unique department and it was fun.

So why come to northern Indiana? His wife originally is from the Fishers/Carmel, Ind., area. She wanted to get back to the midwest and they chose Indiana.

“This just so happened to work out. Almost too perfectly. It was actually uncomfortable how perfect everything was working out because that’s not really happened before the way it has,” Holderman said. “It’s kind of like, I chalked it up to a calling. I’m a Christian. I believe God wants me in Warsaw, Indiana, right now.”

At only 36, he said he’s dealt with his age being almost an issue with some people his entire career.

“I was a young fireman, I was 18. I was a young captain, I was 26. I was a young battalion chief, I was 34. And now I am a young fire chief at 36,” he said.

Though he only took over as chief Feb. 21, he’s been living here about 2-1/2 weeks. Holderman has been learning the area in that time, though he admits it’ll take some time to learn the roads, his firefighters and their quirks.

“I’ve got 13 other county fire department chiefs that I’ve got to talk with and acclimate to and my number one priority is Warsaw Fire, but it’s important to me that we take care of our county departments in any way, shape or form that we can, to include training and all other stuff,” he said.

Holderman plans to do a lot of listening as fire chief, too.

“I’m a very personable person. I say I’m a people pleaser, but what I mean by that is, truly, in order to be a good leader, you have to be a good listener. And there’s a lot of people I don’t know here. There’s a lot of people that want to give me their opinions that need to be heard. And it’s important that I listen to those opinions,” he said.

One thing in Warsaw he said he’s not used to is the history.

“Warsaw goes back. We have guys that are retired that are still incredibly passionate about Warsaw-Wayne Fire Territory and that kind of warms my heart to be honest with you because we don’t have that back home. When they retire, they’re done. They move to South America and move on with their lives. But here, they’re still ingrained in the community. They still want to be invited to events. They still want this and that, and that is fantastic,” Holderman said.

He and his wife, Laura, have two sons. Denver, 13, attends Edgewood Middle School and Brayden, 9, attends Washington STEM Academy. Holderman has a brother and two sisters back home, but none of them ever got into firefighting.

In his free time, Holderman said he loves being outdoors in his Ranger (UTV), hunting and wants to “love to fish, but you have to be incredibly patient for them where I’m from. But here, I think I’m going to have better luck.” He said fishing is something he could do with his boys. “It’s a very good thing for a father and kids to do.”

He also loves to golf when he has the opportunity.

If anyone would like to stop in at WWFT Station No. 2 and meet Holderman, he said they’re more than welcome Monday through Friday. His email is gholderman@warsaw.in.gov.