Fire-district board votes unanimously to OK two-year contract with Chief Silvernail

Mehlville chief outlines his goals for district over next two years

Jim Silvernail

Jim Silvernail

By BURKE WASSON

Having served since 2005 as chief of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, Jim Silvernail will stay at least two more years.

The Board of Directors last week unanimously approved a new two-year contract with Silvernail through April 25, 2010. He will continue to be paid the same $100,000 annual salary he was given when first hired.

The 64-year-old fire chief said between his pension through the Metro West Fire Protection District and that salary, he did not need a raise.

“I’m very happy with what I’m making,” Silvernail said. “I’m very happy with my salary. And I feel like I don’t want to put any more burden on the taxpayers.”

With at least two years ahead, Silvernail has outlined numerous goals, the top of which he said is the construction of a training facility. District officials have been in discussions to build such a facility possibly at Missouri-American Water Co. property at 4194 Meramec Bottom Road.

“My biggest goal is to get a training center completed,” Silvernail said. “I’m really an advocate on training. And I really want to try and improve that program. And if I get the building structures, I’ll be able to do more with that. We’re working on that property with American Water. And if I can build a training center at that point, I think that would improve the fire district …

“I was really fortunate in Metro West that I was able to build all that groundwork. We have a great training center and we have great firehouses. And it was just a great trip at Metro West. I really miss the people there. But the people here are good people.”

Among other goals for the next two years listed last week by Silvernail are:

• Improving the firefighter/paramedic program and maintaining the district’s advanced life-support pumper program. This includes sending paramedics to the fire academy to be cross-trained.

• Updating the vehicle-replacement plan by purchasing one new fire apparatus, re-mounting the refurbished box on the new 1737 ambulance and buying one replacement maintenance vehicle.

• Constructing a new No. 2 firehouse at Telegraph Road and Whitshire Drive.

• Constructing a new training facility.

• Evaluating district waterways for the purchase of marine units to be best utilized by the district. This includes further development of the dive team with training, equipment and standard operating guidelines.

• Improving education standards for employees.

• Improving all public-education programs like installing child car seats, bike helmets, the Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT, program and safety classes.

• Reviewing and updating all standard operating policies and standard operating guidelines and rewriting the district’s rules and regulations manual.

• Evaluating all safety standards through the Safety Committee to focus on fire and EMS scenes and vehicle safety.

• Maintaining excellent relationships with police agencies, St. Louis County, media and cities served by the fire district.

Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer also pointed out several accomplishments done on Silvernail’s watch and added that his leadership has allowed decisions made by the board to be carried out successfully.

“It looks much different than three years ago,” Hilmer said. “After we (Hilmer and board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman) were elected and before we were sworn in, the former Chief (Ray Haddock) grabbed all he could and he left retired. The assistant chief quickly followed. By the time we were sworn in, we had lost five officers. We then quickly hired Chief Silvernail. By a 2-1 vote, the board approved his hiring for a three-year contract.

“Over the past three years while the board has been able to pass many landmark reforms, obviously it’s up to the chief and the administration to administer those. We can pass them. But until they’re pushed through, they don’t do much good.”

“In 2004, the district had zero people who were working as cross-trained firefighter/medics,” Hilmer continued. “By the middle of 2008, we will have 44. In 2004, the fifth ambulance was not being staffed. By the middle of this summer, the ambulance will be in service 24 hours a day.

“And in a lot of cases, a fourth person being a firefighter/paramedic will be on a firetruck at a house where there is no ambulance. At the end of 2004, the district did not have constant staff on the rescue squad. When it did, it could have been down to two people. The chief felt very strongly we should have three people on there at all times. That staffing level has been maintained since his hiring.

“At the end of 2004, there were no advanced life-support pumpers. Today, we have eight of them — seven pumpers including a rescue squad making the eight. In 2004, we did not have a designated training officer. The chief worked on getting four individuals appointed to shift training officers. We did some work-comp reforms. In 2004, there were 52 claims in work comp. By 2006, those claims had been nearly halved to 28. In 2005, we spent $892,000 on work-comp premiums. By 2007, they’d been reduced to $625,000. That’s nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year we are saving just on work-comp premiums …,” the board chairman said.

“Four new ambulances by the end of this year. When (Silvernail) came in here, two brand-new pumpers … We will have a second new firehouse. We’ve upgraded all of our radios, purchased five thermal imaging cameras and we took possession of a 30-foot-long rescue trailer.

“Some programs (Silvernail) has helped start. In 2005, there were no car seats being installed. By the end of 2006, in a calendar year we had installed 360 of them. By the end of this year, we are planning to increase our number of technicians and technician-level instructors to begin to install them

“(Silvernail) is now working with St. Louis County Health to start a bicycle-helmet program. This program will be funded through St. Louis County. So it won’t cost us anything to be able to hand out helmets. We’ve upgraded the dress uniforms and also quite a change in administrative staff since he was hired. We have a new assistant chief and three new deputy chiefs.”

Besides these accomplishments, Silvernail said that the men and women em-ployed by the district have added to his tenure and make him want to stay longer.

“This all has an effect on me staying here,” he said. “When I have individuals like (District Clerk) Carla Juelfs, (Assistant Chief) Steve Mossotti, the deputy chiefs … I want to stay. These people make my job what it is.”