Retiring Fire Chief Brent Saunders was given a heartfelt and emotional farewell Monday during the O’Fallon City Council.
His last day is Friday and he starts a new job in the private sector on Monday. He declined to say what the new position is.
Saunders served the city for 35 years, starting as a volunteer firefighter in 1983. He was appointed Fire Chief in 2004 and has been the city’s first full-time chief since 2008. He directed fire and rescue services for residents of O’Fallon, Shiloh and rural areas of O’Fallon, Shiloh Valley, Caseyville and St. Clair Townships.
Mayor Herb Roach and Police Captain Eric Van Hook honored Saunders with a proclamation and an award. Members of the fire department crowded into the council chambers to support Saunders.
“He is only one of two members of the Fire Department, in its 127-year history, to serve in every post in the department,” Roach said.
Roach complimented Saunders on his preparation and performance, noting that he made important contributions to the community..
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“He truly understands and appreciates all of the work people do, and wants to do more, the best job he can do for the city. We’re very fortunate to have had him,” Roach said.
Roach told Saunders that he was “a hard act to follow.”
Saunders looked out at his fire department colleagues and became emotional, calling them his ‘family.”
“It’s been a true honor to serve the people of O’Fallon, an honor to serve alongside the great firefighters of O’Fallon Fire Rescue,” Saunders said.
Van Hook said Saunders was a dedicated leader, and their work on public safety training went well because of the professional collaboration and willingness to work together.
“This is not common,” Van Hook said. “He has set the bar extremely high.”
After Van Hook’s compliments, Saunders shook his hand and said: “Likewise. I’m very proud to have worked with you and call you a friend.”
Saunders, the Illinois Fire Chief’s Association 2014 Fire Chief of the Year, oversaw the modernization of the department. He created and broadened professional partnerships and was instrumental in building mutual aid agreements.
Roach said under Saunders, the department was upgraded from an ISO Class 4 to an ISO Class 3 rated agency, which placed O’Fallon in the top 15 percent of all fire departments in Illinois.
Department personnel includes four full-time employees and 48 trained volunteer firefighters who operate from four stations and cover a 44-square mile district.
Assistant Fire Chief Tim Claxton has been named acting chief, Roach said. The selection process for the next fire chief is underway.
The mayor said the goal was to find someone like Saunders.
“Chief Saunders directed O’Fallon’s Fire Department through some of its most important, and fastest growing years in history. He has served with professionalism, expertise, and bravery.”
Roach said the city owed him a debt of gratitude.
“I will never forget the memories I have made with the O’Fallon Fire Department and this community,” Saunders said.