Jose Gainza Jr. named Winter Garden fire chief

He has served 32 years in the firefighting industry and previously was a Navy hospital corpsman during Operation Desert Storm.

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The city of Winter Garden has named Jose P. “Jojo” Gainza Jr. the fire chief for the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department. The six-year deputy chief took over as interim chief when Matt McGrew retired last November.

City Manager Mike Bollhoefer made the appointment official Jan. 25.

“It’s truly exciting,” Gainza said of the position. “This is the pinnacle of a firefighter’s career should they climb the ladder. I’m excited, but I’m also humbled by the opportunity.

“I’m grateful to the city and excited to grow things in the city and fire department,” he said.

As chief, Gainza’s first order of business is to hire firefighters to fill three vacancies in the department.

“The biggest goal for any fire department, I see, is the continued growth and development of the fire department,” he said. “We want to … become the best fire department we can be. I look forward to being the best small fire department — not only in the county but in the state and country.”

Part of those aspirations include upgrading the WGFRD’s public protection classification rating. Gainza said the city was evaluated about a year ago and the insurance rating improved from an ISO 4 to an ISO 2 — and just a few points shy of the top rating.

“We have a few things in place now that I believe are going to help us within the next year or two to request (another) evaluation, which I certainly believe will attain the class 1 rating,” he said.

Gainza wants to continue a project he and McGrew started last year before the pandemic struck and forced the department to temporarily abandon the idea. Winter Garden currently does not have its own EMS transport service. The city is equipped to run one, but ordinances and fee schedules must be established first.

“It’s my goal to see it by the end of the year, if not sooner,” he said. “I’m very focused on community service and ensuring the community realizes they can count on us. We’re much more than fighting fires and running medical calls. … We want to be more than just the insurance policy when you need 911. We’re here to help all the time.”



Gainza grew up in the Miami and Hialeah area. He served in the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman from 1985 to 1989 and then in the Navy Reserve until 1993. His last deployment was Operation Desert Storm, where he was part of a medical mobile reconnaissance team.

He graduated from Barry University in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

Following EMT and paramedic school, he briefly worked for Brevard County. He was hired by Orange County Fire Rescue in 1989 and served 25 years, rising through the ranks from firefighter to assistant chief.

While at Orange County, Gainza was the Honor Guard commander for 20 years, helped develop the county’s current EMS transport model and helped the department achieve international accreditation.

Gainza eventually led the county’s EMS program and was responsible for expanding EMS transport service to unincorporated West Orange County. In his final role with the county as the assistant chief of operations, he oversaw all the fire stations and personnel within Orange County.

He spent five years as an adjunct professor in Valencia College’s EMT program.

He became deputy fire chief of the Winter Garden Fire Rescue Department in 2014.



Former Fire Chief McGrew knew he had hired someone special when Gainza joined the department in 2014.

“When you’re the fire chief and you’re hiring a deputy chief, you know you have to have someone who’s a perfect hire, not only for you but (also) for the city,” McGrew said.

The two had worked together at Orange County, including on the ambulance crew.

“He really cares about his citizens and his firefighters and the community that he serves,” McGrew said. “I knew what I was getting when I hired him, and I knew that he had the potential to be the next fire chief. He’s really a good fit. …  He knows the Winter Garden way, and when we compared notes, how we would have handled something, we always were on the same path. I felt confident turning things over to him.”

McGrew said he was pleased to see Gainza’s commitment to the EMS transport program they had hoped to initiate last year.

Gainza and his wife, Laurie, who is a retired Orange County Fire Rescue dispatcher, are content sharing their Mount Dora farm with horses, goats, pigs, turkeys, chickens, ducks and dogs. Together they have four children and 10 grandchildren.

“We’re just excited for Jose coming on,” said City Manager Mike Bollhoefer, who made the selection official last week. “He’s worked well with Matt, and I think he will do a great job for the city. He’s got all the qualifications, and he gets along with the guys and gals.”

Bollhoefer said the city did not seek applicants for the position during the hiring process because he was confident he would be hiring within the department.

Gainza feels blessed.

“It’s a huge responsibility to be the fire chief, to be responsible for the city, its safety with regards to fire and EMS, and being responsible for the men and women who are actually running the calls every single day. I’m very happy and excited … but there’s also butterflies in my stomach. I want to do a very good job. I’m a pleaser kind of person. I like to please people and make them happy.”




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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