Interim fire district chief says residents should expect no changes in service

Hilmer says board in no rush to permanently fill chief’s post.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Brian Hendricks says Mehlville Fire Protection District residents will not experience any changes in service during his tenure as interim chief.

After the resignation of Chief Tim White last week, the Board of Directors voted to name Hendricks interim chief.

Hendricks was named assistant chief last year and previously served as deputy chief training officer. In May, he assumed control of district operations.

“… The public’s not going to feel or see any changes,” Hendricks told the Call. “This is not a situation where we’re going to go and undo things. Chief White did a lot of great things. He really did and the public is not going to see or feel any change in the way we do business. We’re still going to run calls. We’re going to do the best job that we can.

“The great thing about it is, is that we are blessed with an incredible administrative staff. We have some of the finest firefighters and paramedics that anybody could ask for and their professionalism is going to shine through. This is not something that is going to affect one thing that happens in the district. It’s not …

“Changes like this happen, but it doesn’t affect the way we run calls. It doesn’t affect our response times. It doesn’t negatively affect the professionalism of our firefighters and paramedics, or our command staff, for that matter,” the interim chief said.

Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer said, “I think one thing that would speak to the work that Tim did accomplish is that such a structure is in place. If people recall when (board Treasurer) Bonnie (Stegman) and I got elected in ’05 and basically the top five people in the district quit to take their pensions before we could change them, it wasn’t that easy then …

“After Jim Silvernail retired as the interim fire chief, a position he had for almost five years, the district was in better shape after his tenure then it was before, and I would say the same thing for the district after the tenure of Tim White. It’s in a better position then it was before.”

White envisioned Mehlville as a “premier” fire district when he was selected to be Silvernail’s successor and Hendricks said he “absolutely” shares that vision.

“… He (White) put a framework in place that is very easy to follow. One of the things that I think you’ll see in the near future is we’re going to strengthen the relationships we have with other districts. We’re going to focus on some mutual-aid training and renew the spirit of cooperation amongst our surrounding districts and our neighbors.

“We work with them on incidents. They come into our district and we go into theirs,” Hendricks said. “That’s something that you’ll see in the near future … We’ve already started it. We did mutual-aid training not too terribly long ago with our boat teams with Fenton and Mehlville. We both cover the same areas and so like I said, it’s not going to change the way we do business.”

Both Hilmer and Hendricks credited White for improving training and establishing two special operations teams — the Swift Water/Fast Rescue Boat Team and the Advanced Technical High Angle Rope Rescue Team.

Of White, Hendricks said, “He created a framework that was needed. We didn’t have the training that we have now, two or three years ago. We didn’t and now we have the support from the board for the training. We have the support from the board for a lot of these exciting programs. I mean when you talk about a rope rescue team, you talk about a boat team, you look across St. Louis County, there are not a lot of those teams. We are different in the fact we’re so big. The rescue squad concept is something that a lot of county departments have gotten away from. Our board has embraced it.

“When you have a district as big as Mehlville with so many target hazards — we run so much highway — you need that. Chief White when he was here was behind the rescue squad concept and having the specialized training and supporting St. Louis County Strike Team 3 and supporting the Hazardous Materials Response Team, and the board has supported it as well …

“When you have a district, once again, the size of Mehlville, you have to have that. You can’t rely on departments that surround you to come in and fix your problem. We are fortunate that we do work well with the other departments. That’s one thing I want to enhance, absolutely … I want to improve the way we work together and I know that the surrounding districts will embrace it. And it’s going to be good for the entire community,” the interim chief said.

Hendricks, 37, has been employed by the fire district since June 1998.

A south county native, he grew up near Butler Hill and Ambs roads until his family moved to west county when he was a junior in high school.

Since he was about 6 years old, Hendricks knew the fire service would be his professional calling.

“I was fortunate that when I was about 6 years old I knew what I wanted to do — and it never changed. It never changed, and I grew up chasing Mehlville fire trucks,” he said. “I mean, I did. I can remember going to Trautwein Elementary School and they’d have a dumpster fire and I was right there. So I was very fortunate, the fact that I never had to go through the trials and tribulations that a lot of people go through, that period of time when they say: I don’t know what I want to do. I’ve known all along.”

Regarding future plans for the chief’s position, Hilmer said the board ultimately will decide “the path we take to seek a replacement and how that will look. But I think one thing I really want to convey to the public is one reason we’re not in hurry to do this is because the district is in such good hands. I mean we have a tremendous administrative staff in place and the district’s going to continue to run without a hiccup.

“One thing I really would like to point out is while we did name Brian the interim fire chief, we really have a vacant position. And since we’re not going to be filling that anytime in the very near future — the board has not set a time line yet — this isn’t costing the district any money because we haven’t replaced that position. So financially this isn’t anything of harm to the district,” he said.