Hendricks, LaFata excited about future of fire district


Executive Editor

Brian Hendricks and Dan LaFata are excited about the future of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to offer Hendricks the chief’s position on a permanent basis and LaFata the assistant chief’s post on a permanent basis. They had been serving in their respective positions on an interim basis since last June after former Chief Tim White resigned.

After a nearly hourlong closed session Dec. 28, board Treasurer Bonnie Stegman announced Hendricks and LaFata had agreed to take the posts on a permanent basis. Stegman said the board was very happy that Hendricks and LaFata accepted the positions on a permanent basis.

“… They’ve done a wonderful job as interim and couldn’t be happier …,” Stegman said. “It seems like staff is very happy, too, and seem to be working well together. So we look forward to continuing that …”

Hendricks, 38, was named assistant chief in 2010 and previously served as deputy chief training officer. In May, he assumed control of district operations. LaFata, 39, formerly served as deputy chief training officer and was named interim assistant chief after White resigned.

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

Hendricks and LaFata told the Call they are excited about accepting their respective positions on a permanent basis and the future of the fire district.

“I’m excited. When you’re in the interim position, for me it was, ‘I’m going to do the job’ … The district still needed leadership,” Hendricks said. “The district still needed to move forward and just because the former chief separated with the district — you can’t put people in these positions who don’t have the ability to step up. Taking the assistant chief’s position is just that. You are the assistant chief, meaning if something happens to him, you’ve got to be ready to step up and do the job. And that’s something that Dan LaFata and I have always worked with together.

“When I was the assistant chief and Dan was the training officer, I always made sure that Dan was in the loop on things that I was doing so in case something would happen or I would be out of town that he could step in. You can’t run an organization this big with as many moving parts as we have and not have that firmly in place. I didn’t know everything about the chief’s position, but it went very well …”

LaFata said he was pleased with the board’s vote.

“I’m honored to serve in this position. I’m super excited about the future of the district,” he said.

Three or four months ago, Hendricks began planning for the future when he told the board he was working on a three-year plan for the district.

“That plan was going to encompass not only the finances, but it was going to encompass the training for the district for the next three years, the financial needs of the district, apparatus replacement. The one thing that makes it easy is if you take the time to put together a three-year plan and you present it to the board, it gives them the ability to say, ‘I like where you’re going, but what about this? We would like to maybe move in that direction,’ and that’s terrific. They are the board. They’re elected to serve the taxpayers as we are and I don’t anticipate any issues. Our goal every day is to provide the best service we can to the taxpayers and be fiscally responsible to them at the same time. And we have shown that and we’ll continue to do that because that’s one and two. And we can do that and also foster a good relationship between ourselves and the firefighters and paramedics that work here.

“When you have people that are as good at what they do as we have, you have to be able to let them go and let them do their job. And when you see things that you don’t necessarily like, then you train on it and you explain to them why we’re doing it. You support them. You train them and when you do that, they buy in to what you’re doing and you turn around and have the ability to deliver better service to the taxpayers.”

One of the first things Hendricks and LaFata did after being named to their interim positions was establish the Operational Review Committee.

“It’s basically a committee made up of a very diverse demographic of employees from the youngest guys here to the oldest guys here and we started getting their opinions,” Hendricks said. “Our opinion is, ‘This is the way we should do this. What’s yours?’ You get feedback from the employees.

“When they’re out there on the street and they want to wear something that’s a little more comfortable, it’s a very simple thing. But to the guy that’s standing out on that highway at 2 o’clock in the morning, if he wants to wear a coat that’s a little more reflective, and I can do that and make it work with the numbers, well then you do that. It’s little things like that that mean a lot to the firefighters and paramedics that work for us, as well as our standard operating procedures, as well as our responses.

“We’ve got a lot of very talented people that work here and to not tap into that resource … Dan’s in the office now. He runs calls a lot. I’m in the office. You just sometimes lose sight. You never really forget about it, you get removed from it and when you have those captains or those lead men that are in those engine houses say, ‘Chief LaFata, I think I have an idea on how we can make this better or that better,’ you’re foolish not to listen because a lot of times what they have to say is incredibly valuable. And that’s something that Dan has done incredibly well is picked up the ball and stepped into that role so I could focus on other things …,” Hendricks said.

“At the end of the day, they don’t get everything they want, but who does? That’s just part of it. So that’s been a real positive thing for the morale of the district and for the operations of the district,” he added.

Hendricks praised the district’s “incredible” administrative staff and “dedicated” firefighters and paramedics.

“We have four deputy chiefs that are just top notch …,” he said. “I feel personally responsible for every employee that works here and when I go to bed at night, I’m comforted by the fact that I have four deputy chiefs that I know there’s nothing that they can’t handle. And Dan’s always right there with them … That’s something that’s comforting. I’ve got an incredible administrative staff here in the office … It allows Dan and I to operate at the level that we do and I’m very fortunate to know that if something happened to me that Dan could step right in without missing a beat.

“And that makes us very fortunate. We are truly, truly fortunate that we provide a heck of a service. We do a great job and it’s because of the dedicated men and women that we have not only in the administrative staff but in every engine house that we have.

“Everybody’s here for all the right reasons and I think that we’re giving them the ability to really prosper by supporting them the way we do. So I’m really excited …”

Being named the district’s chief was not necessarily his goal, Hendricks said.

“… I never attacked this or looked at this from the position of what do I have to do to make chief? Never. I didn’t do it. But I could do that because I loved what I was doing it for,” he said. “So I knew that the worst thing that was going to happen to me is that I got to continue to do what I loved to do — and Dan’s the same way … We had this conversation. If they get a new chief, that’s great because Dan will get to go back to what he loves doing, which is training. So it was really — it couldn’t have worked out better.”

LaFata said he agreed with Hendricks.

“I think we work every day to meet or exceed everybody’s expectations — from the board to the newest employee,” he said.