Chairman of MFPD board responds to letter

To the editor:

As regular readers of the Call know, the Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors does not conduct the business of the district through the media.

I am chairman of the board, but do not write on behalf of the other board members.

I recently have been made aware of the July 29 issue of the Call. Although Associate Editor Alyson E. Raletz very capably reported the situation relating to the district’s deputy chief facing seven felony controlled substance counts, I felt compelled to respond to a letter to the editor from Terry Callahan.

Ms. Callahan raises several questions relating to this incident as well as other policies presently under discussion at the public engagement process FACTS meetings currently under way at the district.

With respect to the incident with Deputy Chief Greg Harwood, Chief Ray Haddock took action immediately upon learning of the allegations against Harwood by suspending him from duty without pay and removing him from district property. The chief initiated both a criminal investigation and an internal investigation to determine the nature of Harwood’s alleged conduct.

Chief Haddock reported his findings to the Board of Directors, which voted unanimously in the May 17 closed session to uphold the chief’s recommendation of suspension of Harwood, pending further criminal and internal investigations. The Call timely reported these matters in an earlier issue.

Addressing Callahan’s questions set forth in her letter:

It was an inventory check that discovered Harwood’s alleged improper conduct.

Reportedly, Harwood has admitted substituting saline solution for morphine. To this date, no one apparently has been harmed because of this substitution of saline for pain medication. At this point, the board has not been provided any figures as to the costs to the taxpayers or insurance companies.

The investigation is continuing. There is no indication that this substitution of saline for morphine has been going on any longer than has been reported in previous articles.

As stated, the Mehlville administration immediately acted upon learning of this problem and has changed its manner of handling the morphine to provide a new system wherein two employees must sign off on the procurement of all narcotics.

Finally, with respect to the Harwood incident, random drug testing remains in place and any employee who fails a drug test will be immediately removed from his position and be appropriately disciplined.

Terry Callahan goes on to state in the letter that in her opinion, cross-training of paramedics and firefighters is not appropriate because “they cannot do both jobs effectively.” I am not familiar with the level of expertise Callahan possesses, but it is clear from the recent FACTS meetings that many citizens who are participating in the review of the district’s services are very much interested in the question of cross-training.

At least one participant — a medical doctor who has participated in emergency room services — a 20-year district taxpayer, has wholeheartedly endorsed cross-training as a means of providing better trained firefighters on our pumpers. In essence, Callahan states that since firefighting and paramedic services are “more and more specialized,” one person trained in both would not be able to provide adequate service. In so stating, Callahan ignores the fact that any cross-trained firefighter/paramedic would have completed the most rigorous up-to-date training in both fields; meeting all training standards and licensure requirements.

Furthermore, continuing education courses are available to the firefighter/paramedic in both fields and encouraged and — when finances allow — are paid for by the district to ensure that employees continue to provide the utmost service.

While it is true that a recent survey taken at the district’s request indicated that 89 percent of the people surveyed thought that services we provide were good, it is clear from many of the citizens participating in the FACTS program that this cross-training question should be thoroughly evaluated as a means to better conserve resources of the district while providing the best-trained emergency services personnel that the taxpayers of this district can afford.

In closing, I very much appreciate Terry Callahan’s concern regarding the Mehlville Fire Protection District and I invite Callahan to continue to voice concerns to the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

Thomas P. O’Driscoll

MFPD Board of Directors chairman