New fire chief brings hometown spark

New Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo returns to the city after a stint with Watsonville fire.

Over the years, Hollister resident Bob Martin Del Campo has had the chance to wear a few uniforms: the dress blues and camouflages of the Marines, the camouflage of the Army Reserve, and the purple and orange of FedEx.
“I’ve been in uniform all my life,” said Martin Del Campo, 51. “I even feel awkward right now because they don’t have a uniform for me yet.”
The local resident will soon don the navy blue of the Hollister Fire Department as permanent chief Aug. 3. Last week, Martin Del Campo sat at a table in the Hollister Fire Department’s Station 1 in decidedly civilian clothes: blue jeans and a striped, gray shirt.
The incoming chief is set to make $127,450 annually under the agreement approved by city council last week. Until then, he’s using paid vacation time from his current position as division chief of the Watsonville Fire Department to meet with the Hollister interim chief before taking the top leadership role.
“He has a military background,” said Interim Hollister Fire Department Chief Bill Garringer. “So, I think he expects orders to be followed—and rightfully so—but I also think he is a people person and he’ll get along well with the personnel in the department.”
Martin Del Campo will succeed Garringer, who took over temporarily after former Fire Chief Mike O’Connor accepted early retirement offer along with other city employees.
As for managing department overtime—a point of contention between city council members and the fire union—Martin Del Campo plans to follow the example of the interim chief by moving employees between stations to avoid it.
The fire department’s overtime budget was slashed from $440,000 in 2013-14 to a $100,000 in 2014-15. Cutting back on overtime costs caused tensions between firefighters and the former chief, who became the subject of a fire union-prompted investigation into claims of nepotism and time card fraud, for which O’Connor was later cleared.
The new chief will bring to the job 33 years of military experience. He served in the Marines first as a combat engineer and then as a crash-fire rescue man, the equivalent of an airport firefighter, he said.
“I loved it,” he said, “fell in love with the job.”
Martin Del Campo followed that experience with joining the Army Reserve. While still in the reserve, he moved to Hollister where he donned a purple and orange FedEx uniform in the civilian workforce. At the same time, the father of four joined the Hollister Fire Department as a paid volunteer who received a few $100 payments every few months to offset some of the costs of gas and his cell phone bills.
Eventually, Martin Del Campo became a paid employee and moved up the ranks to the role of fire captain. When a battalion chief position became available in the Watsonville Fire Department, Martin Del Campo secured that job. Within nine months, he was promoted to division chief there.
His goals in returning to the Hollister Fire Department include boosting the county’s reserves and maintaining the already high morale, he said. Martin Del Campo wants to see the department maintain 50 reserve firefighters. There are currently seven to 12 reserves with another 17 going into training now, he explained.
“That’s what I’m allotted and that’s what my goal is,” he said.
The incoming chief doesn’t see adding reserves as taking away from the work of existing firefighters here.
“What it is going to do is supplement what we already have,” he said.
The department is different than the one Martin Del Campo left behind several years ago. There were 27 employees when he left and there are 40 now, he said.
But the soon-to-be-chief can’t wait to take his new position, he said.
“He’s got 15 to 16 years of experience and he lives in Hollister,” said Garringer, the interim chief. “His kids went to San Benito High School. So he will be coming home—so to speak—to finish his career in the Hollister Fire Department and I think he’ll do a great job.”

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