My law firm has been privileged to represent the brave firefighters and paramedics of the Mehlville Fire Protection District for the last 30-plus years. In all that time, I do not think we have ever had a harsh word with any director or board member of the MFPD, and there has never been a previous lawsuit against the district by the union.
However, recent actions taken by the MFPD board have seriously hurt morale at the fire department, leading to excessive turnover and instability. Unilateral actions by the board to drastically reduce or eliminate pension, disability, health and other benefits and association rights have created a corrosive environment. Unfortunately, the average taxpayer has not received any real benefit from these arbitrary cuts.
Lost in the public dialogue about the MFPD, including coverage of these issues in the Call, is the impact the board’s actions have had on the protection the fine men and women of the union provide south county. While low morale and the loss of veteran firefighters and paramedics can be managed in the short term, the long-term impact potentially threatens the health and well-being of those served by the MFPD. When a Mehlville citizen dials 911 with chest pains or an Oakville homeowner smells smoke in the middle of the night, these taxpayers expect and deserve an emergency response from well-trained and experienced personnel. Under the current board, this expectation is being quickly eroded.
While several court judgments have recently been entered against the MFPD — and judicial scrutiny will continue, including legal action over the unwarranted termination of two union officials — the greater issue of community safety is being ignored. In future conversations about the MFPD and the discourse between the union and the board, the focus must be less about the personalities involved and more about the undermining of a vital public service.
After all, it is the public that will decide on the future direction of the fire district at the polls. Until such time, all involved need to focus more on the MFPD’s role in our community: to protect and serve the men, women and children of south county.
John H. Goffstein
Bartley Goffstein LLC