WGFRD makes last call for Battalion Chief Brian Sanders

After 30 years with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department, Sanders is looking forward to the retirement phase of his life.

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Brian Sanders has had a successful 30-year career with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department that started when he was 21 — but the battalion chief said it is time to retire his fire hat and uniform.

His retirement was official at the end of April. His colleagues were unable to celebrate because of COVID-19, but they participated in a farewell video created to commemorate the occasion.

Sanders was a firefighter for 12 years before serving two years as a lieutenant. He has been a battalion chief for more than 16 years.

“The retirement of Battalion Chief Brian Sanders is something to celebrate,” said Winter Garden Fire Chief Matt McGrew. “He is joining just one or two other people who have worked their entire 30-year career with Winter Garden Fire Rescue. That is rare in a small department, and it shows his dedication to the community he loves.”

On an employee’s last official day, it’s tradition for the department to make a last call on the radio to announcement his retirement.

“The chief texted me and said they’re going to do the last call,” Sanders said. “I was working out at the gym. It was bittersweet. It was cool. It was emotional listening to it.”

““I do not think you can find another person that had such a big heart for service,” McGrew said. “It didn’t matter what Brian was doing, he would drop everything to help someone in need, to assist a stranger walking down the street or to make sure a child got a present for Christmas.”

After being on call with the WGFRD for three decades, Sanders said it’s in his nature to want to jump into action.

“It’s weird, even to this day, I’ll be sitting at the Country House (Restaurant) and see the trucks rushing by and wonder,” he said. “I want to check my pager and see where the call is.”

This has been a gratifying career, Sanders said.

“Every day it’s something new, and you don’t know what the shift has for you that day,” he said. “I never really feel like I’ve worked a day in my life working for the fire department. … It’s something I’ve woken up every day wanting to help someone. Whenever something is going on, I just want to be in the middle of it.”



Firefighting piqued Sanders’ interest when he watched relatives who were firefighters take calls.

“I have some uncles who worked for Winter Garden,” he said. “They’d be at these family functions with these pagers, and they’d get a call and have to take off. And I thought that was something I wanted to do.”

As a student at Ocoee Junior High School, Sanders participated in the Ocoee Fire Department’s Explorer Post 920, where he learned the ins and outs of firefighting. In his senior year at West Orange High School, he volunteered with the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department.

Sanders said he never considered working for any other department in Central Florida. He is a longtime resident of Winter Garden and was willing to wait until a position came available in the city. There was one station at the time and firefighters rarely left, he said.

He was hired as a Winter Garden firefighter in 1990 after college and has worked under four chiefs: Roy LaBossiere, Randy Dollar, John Williamson and McGrew. He worked with a fifth chief when Jim Briggs stepped down from the position to become a firefighter.

Sanders said he learned a great deal from Briggs when they worked together.

Through the years, Sanders became a state-certified fire and arson investigator and was named Firefighter of the Year.

Most firefighters have made calls they will never forget. One of his first made an impact on this young hire.

“It was a medical call for an infant baby that had died,” he said. “The parents were outside, and I was like, ‘Where’s the baby?’ … It was inside in the crib in the living room. I went inside, and it was pitch black, and there was this ominous light leading right to the crib. I looked at my partner and said, ‘We did everything we could for this baby,’ that was like 4 or 5 days old.”

He recalls one of the most exciting calls he’s received while on duty — when his pregnant wife called to say her water broke and the birth of their triplets was imminent.

Sanders said he has delivered 21 babies in 30 years and has assisted on many others.

“I’ve delivered them all over the place — Circle K, rooming houses, the Winter Garden Restaurant parking lot and all over the side of the road,” he said.

He always will remember one birth in particular. He said the mother was so grateful that she took her daughter to the fire station to see Sanders every year on the girl’s birthday.



Sanders has started his retirement with some excitement — he went skydiving on Father’s Day weekend. It’s one of many activities on his bucket list.

He also is tackling some remodeling work in his home and spending more time with his four sons: 21-year-old Devin and 16-year-old triplets Ashton, Bryce and Calvin. He and his wife, Angel, want to travel once it is safe to do so.

“I want to go back to work; I like to work,” Sanders said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do or what field I’m going to work.”

McGrew said he is certain it will be in an area of service.

“I am certain that Brian is not done helping people, so we are looking forward to seeing where his next chapter in life takes him,” McGrew said.








Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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