Chief Silvernail was the model of a public servant


Editorial by the Call

Former Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Jim Silvernail, who died last week at age 74, may be best known as the longtime chief of the Metro West Fire Protection District.

But the lasting impact of his five-year tenure in south county continues to this day for Oakville, Concord, Lemay and Sunset Hills residents still enjoying the benefits of a better fire district.

Public officials can make a lasting difference to a city, school district or fire district, for better or for worse. It’s why the Call chronicles these decisions on a weekly basis.

Actions today can have lasting consequences.

In a column applauding the hiring of Silvernail as a permanent chief in 2006, we wrote, “In our dealings with Chief Silvernail, we’ve found him to be forthright, open, accessible and honest. We wish more appointed officials in south county were like him.”

For that matter, we wish more elected officials in south county were like Silvernail: getting the job done while getting along with everyone, improving services while cutting costs and going on to dedicate their lives to important volunteer service, as Silvernail did with the BackStoppers.

Who could ask for more than that? Silvernail was a true public servant when south county needed one.

At the direction of board Chairman Aaron Hilmer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman, Silvernail set the district on the path it still follows today of increasing services for residents at every opportunity. His most notable accomplishment at MFPD was adding the advanced-life support, or ALS, systems to pumpers, which the district didn’t have when he took over, and cross-training firefighters. Metro West had done it for 30 years.

Silvernail was with the delegation from the BackStoppers that first went to tell Officer Blake Snyder’s widow, Elizabeth, that the organization would stand by her and their son Malachi for the rest of their lives. The two, a 70-something retiree and a 23-year-old young widow, later struck up an unlikely friendship.

But should we be surprised? Silvernail showed a talent for getting along with everyone, which is just what the MFPD needed.

What will we say in a decade about today’s legislators, council members, fire and school district officials, aldermen, mayors and county executive?

Residents will truly be lucky if they can look back and say their officials accomplished a fraction of what Chief Silvernail did.