Assistant Fire Chief Harold B. Hollingsworth spent his life helping others, from mentoring Boy Scouts to teaching wrestling skills to young athletes.
Sunday night, he was on his way to help again — this time, responding to a house fire during a severe thunderstorm — when his fire district Ford Expedition left the wet road and struck a fence and a tree at 9:45 p.m. in eastern Jackson County. He was headed west on Blue Mills Road at Buckner Tarsney Road and was wearing a seat belt. Other crews responding to the fire were behind him.
Hollingsworth, a 16-year veteran of the Fort Osage Fire Protection District, was pronounced dead at Centerpoint Medical Center from injuries suffered in the crash.
He is the first firefighter of the 35-member Fort Osage district to die in the line of duty.
“All of us know that this job is dangerous, not only actually fighting the fire but responding to the calls,” Fire Chief John Yocum said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “We’re a family. We will help each other get through this. We will be helping his family, and we always will be.”
Hollingsworth, 47, of Lexington, Mo., is survived by his wife, Allison, and two adult sons, one of whom is in the military and is traveling home.
“Harold loved the fire service, and the only thing he loved more was his wife and two children,” said Yocum, who had been Hollingsworth’s friend for 22 years, since their days together at Lexington Fire and Rescue.
Hollingsworth spent 25 years in the fire service, starting in Lexington. He began his Fort Osage career in 1997 as a firefighter and paramedic. After working his way through the district’s ranks, he was promoted to assistant fire chief in 2010, said Todd Farley, an assistant fire chief with the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District who on Monday served as a Fort Osage district spokesman.
“This is a tragedy for the Fort Osage Fire Protection District and to the community,” Farley said. “Harold served the department and the community proudly and with a high degree of integrity. He was instrumental in the leadership of this organization.”
Yocum described Hollingsworth as a positive, caring and giving individual, the type of man who would lend you his car if yours broke down.
He was upbeat and rarely allowed himself much down time, said Independence Battalion Chief Doug Short, who worked with Hollingsworth at Fort Osage.
“He just had a great attitude,” Short said. “Every day he came to work he was ready to go.”
Hollingsworth enjoyed spending time with his family, overseeing Boy Scout activities and helping the wrestling team at Lexington High School. He also was active in the school’s booster club, Yocum said. Hollingsworth served in the 110th Combat Engineers in the Missouri Army National Guard and on the Lexington school board.
But Hollingsworth also loved and had a passion for fire service, making sure his firefighters had the proper equipment and resources to do their jobs.
“You don’t meet many people like Harold,” Yocum said. “He cared. He had the dedication. You don’t just replace 25 years of service.”
Short said Hollingsworth’s fellow firefighters are struggling with his death.
“It is devastating to everybody,” he said. “Any time you have a member of the fire service, it doesn’t matter if we work for the same department or not, it is always crushing to us because we are all in the same family.”
The U.S. flag flew at half-staff Monday at the Fort Osage district’s administrative office in Buckner.
Funeral arrangements are pending.