Fire board to offer Hendricks chief’s post on permanent basis

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

The Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors plans to offer interim Chief Brian Hendricks the position on a permanent basis.

Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer told the Call the board planned to offer Hendricks the position during a closed session Wednesday — after the Call went to press.

Hendricks has been serving as interim chief since June when former Chief Tim White resigned. Hendricks was named assistant chief last year and previously served as deputy chief training officer. In May, he assumed control of district operations.

Hendricks told the Call he plans to accept the chief’s job on a permanent basis if the Board of Directors votes to offer it to him.

“Things are going incredibly well,” he said.

In addition, Hilmer told the Call that the board plans to offer interim Assistant Chief Dan LaFata the post on a permanent basis.

LaFata formerly served as deputy chief training officer and was named interim assistant chief after White resigned.

Hilmer said the board has yet to take any official action to offer Hendricks and LaFata the positions on a permanent basis.

“There has been no official board action to this date,” Hilmer said Saturday. “… The board has talked about this, obviously, in closed session. Nothing official has gone on and on Wednesday the plan right now is that the board is going to vote to offer to make the chief’s job permanent for Brian Hendricks and the assistant chief’s job permanent for Dan LaFata.”

Hendricks has been employed by the fire district since June 1998 and LaFata has been employed by Mehlville since October 1995.

The Board of Directors has been pleased with the performance of Hendricks and LaFata since June, Hilmer said.

“Both Brian and Dan have done a good job, an exceptional job in the last six months,” he said. “At the time, the board had talked about well, do we want to do a search for a chief then, all of that. And we kind of came to the conclusion — I don’t know if a lot of readers are aware of this, but St. Louis County is very odd in this that anyone who works at a fire district in St. Louis County has to graduate from the St. Louis County Fire Academy.

“So you can imagine how that greatly diminishes our chance to look for anybody outside the region. For instance, if we’d find someone, say a 50-year-old person who’s got a great track record as a fire chief somewhere else in the United States, that means he has to come here and pass the Fire Academy. So I think that’s a very bad thing that St. Louis County has, but it doesn’t necessarily hurt Mehlville because we’ve got a couple of great guys. But I think it hurts the fire service in general in St. Louis County that they have such a silly rule.”

Of that requirement, Hilmer said, “To me, it just so limits the resources the district can draw on. But having said that, I think there’s a lot to be said for promoting from within. There’s no assimilation time. Look, they know everything that’s going on and they’ve proved themselves on the job … We haven’t spent one penny on any type of search or anything.”

The board will have to make a decision sometime in the future about whether to fill the deputy chief training officer post vacated by LaFata in June, he said.

“Since then, him and Brian have been both doing that while they’ve been doing their jobs,” Hilmer said. “So the question that the board’s going to have for the chief is does this position need to be filled? Can it be filled by spreading the duties around in order to save the salary? So that’s something we will address in the coming year.”

While the board is pleased with Hendricks’ performance as interim chief, so are district employees, according to Hilmer.

“I’ve had conversations with employees of the district and they give Brian very high marks and the Board of Directors gives Brian very high marks,” he said. “And I think that says it all. The board and employees both agree that Brian’s done a great job.

“The one thing I would also stress that where Brian and the board are in agreement, we both aren’t in the business of asking residents for tax increases and we both are very cognizant of the fact that the Mehlville Fire District is going to have flat revenue for many years going forward.

“So that’s going to be a challenge because we’ve also inherited a pension debt, a sick-leave debt and we’re still paying a mortgage on the headquarters that were all built by previous boards and administrations. So we’re going to have to continue to be diligent to work with those under the auspices of flat revenue,” the board chairman said.