Fire chief asks board to move captains from bargaining unit into management

Fahs declines to comment on proposal by MFPD chief.

Mehlville Fire Protection District firefighters participate in a training exercise last week at a former fast-food restaurant. They cut a hole in the side of the building, put a van inside the structure and simulated a rescue of the occupants of the vehicle. The building at 13117 and 13119 Tesson Ferry Road recently was purchased by the district for the site of its new No. 4 firehouse.

Mehlville Fire Protection District firefighters participate in a training exercise last week at a former fast-food restaurant. They cut a hole in the side of the building, put a van inside the structure and simulated a rescue of the occupants of the vehicle. The building at 13117 and 13119 Tesson Ferry Road recently was purchased by the district for the site of its new No. 4 firehouse.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Tim White last week proposed improving the district’s chain-of-command structure by moving captains from the bargaining unit represented by Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters into management.

Saying his proposal is “another step of progress as far as the organizational structure,” White asked the Board of Directors March 25 to make the necessary changes to move the district’s captains “into management where they belong so we can move forward in meeting the needs of our taxpayers.”

White’s proposal would affect 24 captains, including four members of Local 1889’s Executive Board — Capt. Nick Fahs, president; Capt. Steve Strobl, vice president; Capt. Mike Yemm, secretary; and Capt. Dave Waser, sergeant at arms.

Contacted by the Call, Fahs declined to comment on White’s proposal.

White recently clashed with Fahs and Mark Woolbright, a captain with the Pattonville Fire Protection District and IAFF 2nd District vice president, over his proposal to change the district’s seniority policy regarding vacancies, fill-in personnel and temporary fill-ins.

During a board meeting on March 11, Fahs and Woolbright contended White’s proposed changes would jeopardize public safety, placing both residents and and firefighters at risk.

But White responded that his proposed changes to the district’s Employee Manual of Policies and Procedures would enhance public safety by having the best-qualified personnel serve residents rather than having personnel selected “based on seniority and politics.”

The chief also said testing employees for competency was the key to his proposal.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to approve White’s proposal to change the seniority policy. Fahs declined to comment on the board’s vote when contacted by the Call.

Regarding his proposal to move the district’s captains from the bargaining unit into management, White said last week, “… The changes this year under my administration have set the substructure to support the weight of a premiere fire district. With that said, there is a flaw in the organizational structure, which will inevitably stop the progress of this department.

“We can clearly see in the organizational chart of our fire district that captains are managers/supervisors. They are responsible for the firehouse and the property it sits on. They are responsible for all personnel in their engine house under their command.

“They are responsible for the enforcement of all rules and regulations as well as the enforcement of the district’s policies and procedures. They are responsible for incident-scene management and it is the captain who answers to the public that we serve when there are questions pertaining to his or her engine company or engine house. They are always referred to as company officers in national training reference books simply because they are officers,” he continued.

“And therefore, I am asking the board to do what so many departments have done and move them from the bargaining unit and place them in management where they belong. The captains are not labor and should have never been put into that classification. They are part of my management team to assure the highest quality of service to our citizens. They are either management or they are labor, but they cannot possibly be both,” White said.

“It does not work nor has it ever worked within any sound and acceptable organizational structure. So I am asking the board to make the necessary changes to move them into management where they belong so that we can move forward in meeting the needs of our taxpayers,” he concluded.

Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer said, “Great. All right Tim, that makes a lot of sense. What I need you to do then is you need to get with (MFPD legal counsel) Matt (Hoffman) for the appropriate paperwork to file with the state, get that to us and we’ll vote on that next Thursday (April 1).”

During a period for public comment, the board chairman noted Fahs had signed up to address the board.

“OK, we have one comment from Nick. What do you got, Nick?” Hilmer asked.

Fahs replied, “Nothing.”

“Nothing? OK. Then we’re done with that,” Hilmer said, noting the board planned to conduct a closed session to discuss legal and real estate matters.

Hilmer told the Call the change to the district’s seniority policy “was a great idea by Chief White. It makes perfect sense and it makes common sense.

“Who wouldn’t want to have the most-qualified person at a position regardless if he worked there for a year or 10 years? And I think it’s really just one more way of eradicating the old way of doing things — that just because you’ve been there for 25 years doesn’t mean you need to be in front of somebody who’s more qualified and a better worker than you are.”

Regarding White’s proposal to move captains from the bargaining unit into management, Hilmer said, “Quite frankly, I think that puts the seniority proposal that we passed to shame. I think the implementation of the chain of command, captains out of the bargaining unit, is much more vital to the operation of the district than anything else Tim has brought to us before.

“It makes perfect sense. It will make perfect sense to anybody in the public because that’s how the real world is run. I’m all for it and I can’t wait to vote for it on Thursday (April 1),” he added.