Bert J. Saunders, 1937-2013: Firefighter lived childhood dream


Bert J. Saunders, who followed a childhood ambition — and a family tradition — to become a Toledo firefighter, died March 17 in Toledo Hospital. He was 75.

He was in ill health recently, said Jan, his wife.

Mr. Saunders of Sylvania retired as a Toledo firefighter in 1988. He was pressed into service right after roll call on his first day in 1964 when he and his comrades relieved a crew at a working fire, recalled Robert Schwanzl, then at Station 7, Franklin Avenue and Bancroft Street.

Getting on the roof was part of this operation, and Mr. Saunders was sent up.

“I said, ‘You might as well as get your boots wet,’ ” said Mr. Schwanzl, who retired as assistant chief. “He seemed to fit right in. He was very easy to work with. A lot of guys felt comfortable around him.”

Mr. Saunders later served at Station 16 in the Dorr Street and Detroit Avenue area; at Station 24 in Point Place, and at Station 25 on West Central Avenue. He received a meritorious service award for pulling an unconscious woman to safety from a house fire.

“He said it was really tough, but he felt good about helping people and saving people,” his wife said. “He saw some horrible things, but he felt good about being a fireman. Through that he made wonderful friends. It’s almost like a fraternity. I can’t believe how close they are.”

His nephew Jerry Saunders has been a Toledo firefighter for 20 years. But long before, he’d heard how his uncle single-handedly saved someone.

“I thought that would be pretty cool,” his nephew said.

Bert Saunders also had stints in the fire prevention bureau.

Before Mr. Saunders was born, his grandfather, Benjamin Saunders, had already retired as a Toledo firefighter. He was named for an uncle who was a Toledo firefighter. His father, Melvin, was a Toledo firefighter for 25 years, retiring in 1968. His brother, Jerry, is a volunteer firefighter in Haskins.

He was born Aug. 26, 1937, to Marie and Melvin Saunders and attended Scott High School. He served stateside in the Air Force — as a firefighter.

“He said he always wanted to be a firefighter,” his wife said. “Some kids don’t know what they want to be. He did.”

After the military, he received a high-school-equivalency diploma. He was a graduate of what is now Owens Community College.

On his days off from the Toledo fire force, he sold fine jewelry at Keidan’s Jewelers. The Monday after he retired as a Toledo firefighter, he became a safety and fire inspector for the Ohio fire marshal’s office. He left for assignments around northwest Ohio from his home, but the full-time job required weekly visits to headquarters in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. He retired in 1999.

He liked to golf around the Toledo area with fellow fire retirees or take golf trips with friends to Florida or the Carolinas. He and his wife had a second home for years in Port Clinton, and they enjoyed boating on Lake Erie. He was a member of the Moose Lodge in Port Clinton.

He was determined to attend his grandsons’ after-school activities. “We could go to three or four ballgames in a day,” his wife said.

Surviving are his wife, Jan, whom he married June 13, 1974; stepson Jeffrey Adduci; brother, Jerry Saunders, and three grandsons.

A Mass in his memory will be celebrated at 8:20 a.m. Wednesday in St. Joseph Church, Sylvania. Memorial services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Chapel of Peace Memorial Mausoleum at Toledo Memorial Park, Sylvania. Fire department retirees will conduct a Last Alarm service.

The family suggests tributes to St. Joseph Church; the Sylvania Moose Lodge, or the Toledo Firefighters Museum.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.