After 28 years of dedicated service, Mike Sander has hung up his gear for the final time at the Newton Fire Department.
Sander joined the department in 1992 and spent his entire career with the City of Newton. It helped provide stability for his wife and 10 children, but it was also a rewarding career for a city and coworkers who treated him well.
“The city of Newton was a good employer,” Sander said. “I really enjoyed working with the guys at the fire department, and you know the other departments along with the city of Newton. They did a lot of good for me.”
Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik commended Sander for his years of dedication to the department. Wellik said Sander always put the needs of the people they served first. Having a guy serve nearly three decades in the department provides a unique perspective that can only come with their years of service.
“The people that stay here throughout their entire career bring a lot of value and knowledge. We call it institutional knowledge about different buildings in the community and just even the different patients that they take care of. A lot of times we see the same patients many times. That longevity, that’s a great success story, if you will,” Wellik said.
Wellik said guys like Sander are what they call the “steady hand.” So even in tense situations, Sander was one of the guys who wouldn’t get rattled and knew they would get through it.
Sander first became interested in the profession after seeing some of his friends embark on a career as a first responder. Another attraction to the profession was an interest in becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Sander’s mother was a nurse, and he had seen her helping those in need so he thought he would try to do that as well.
Sander grew up in the eastern Iowa town of Stanwood but settled in Newton because his wife Rebecca grew up here. Both graduated from Central College with education degrees so Sander started out as a high school Spanish teacher.
With the couple’s large family, they decided to homeschool their children. As they made that transition, that is when Sander looked to join the fire department not only because of his interest but also the 24 hours on duty and 48 hours off schedule lent itself really well to teaching his children.
“Having the two days off in between accommodated that a lot better,” Sander said.
Many things have changed over the course of Sander’s career, mainly in call volume. Sander said when he first started, the department averaged four or five calls a day but now the department receives about 10 calls a day. Beyond that, the types of calls have shifted.
“As far as times changing, we have more ambulance calls than fires now and a lot more prevention things. I think that we have less fires, but we still have fires. I think they are fewer and farther between,” Sander said.
Sander liked both the firefighting and EMT aspect of the job equally seeing value in both.
“I really like getting out and being able to do the fire part as far as the different fires and a lot of guys like that part, the more exciting part,” Sander said. “I really appreciated the opportunity just to be able to be with patients in the back of the ambulance and try to bring peace in their chaos.”
Sander is a Christian and his faith became an important part of his job. If the patients were on board, he would pray with them in the back of the ambulance as a way of helping hurting people through a difficult time.
Sander said there are plenty of memorable calls, and unfortunately it’s some of the bad ones that stick in your mind.
“Those are ones that you have to process through. They still hurt but those stick in your mind sometimes,” Sander said.
Most of his good memories are directly related to the other people he worked with. He called his fellow firefighters a second family as you spend so much time with them while on duty.
“Just being able to eat around the lunch table with the guys,” Sander said. “Having fun with them, going on calls so it’s more of a general remembering the guys who go on certain calls with you and being able to process things with them. Those are memorable experiences.”
His final day at the NFD was Jan. 31. One thing that will remain with him for many years to come was fighting a fire and getting a save on his final day at the department.
“It’s not a common thing you get to have a fire on your last day,” Sander said. “Being able to go on a fire and transport a patient that they pulled out and she survived.”
Once the fire was out and the patient saved, Sander was greeted for his final ride by family including two of his grandsons as he got back to the station. His family has always been supportive of his service to the fire department, especially when his long shifts would keep him away from home.
“It seems like they’ve always been good about the 24 hour period I’ve been gone. Sometimes you’re having to sub for another guy so it’s 48 hours you’re gone. They were always willing to pitch in and willing to do the extra part while dad was gone,” Sander said.
Now in retirement, Sander has returned to teaching. He had been teaching Spanish at the Newton Christian School once a week. But when a first grade teacher resigned, he considered taking the role and teaching full time.
“I thought about it and prayed about it so I asked my sister cause she’s a teacher so she had a big influence there,” Sander said. When he asked her if he would do well in the role she answered with a firm yes so he has taken on that new role.
But he will always be remembered by the Newton Fire Department for his years of dedication.
“It’s great to see somebody go through their entire career and get to that finish line and retire. And know that he’s retiring healthy. That’s just a great thing to see,” Chief Wellik said.
Contact Pam Pratt at 641-792-3121 ext. 6530 or email@example.com