Mehlville fire district closes on purchase of property for new No. 2 firehouse

Firefighter’s wife challenges directors to form a committee to educate public

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville Fire Protection District now owns a roughly 1-acre parcel at the corner of Telegraph Road and Whitshire Drive that eventually will be the site of the district’s new No. 2 firehouse.

The closing on the purchase of the property took place Friday, according to Board of Directors Chairman Aaron Hilmer. The district purchased the property at the northeast corner of Telegraph Road and Whitshire Drive from Darrel D. “Dean” Climer of Oakville for $600,000.

The existing No. 2 firehouse, built in the 1950s in the 5600 block of Telegraph Road, is deteriorating and needs to be replaced, according to Hilmer.

“Within the next three months, we’re going to start working on pulling together ideas, plans, et cetera, and hopefully by that time we have a timeline for when it’s going to be built,” Hilmer said of the new No. 2 firehouse.

On April 12, the board voted to amend the agenda and approve a resolution authorizing Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti to act on behalf of the district and the board at the closing on the property purchase.

Newly elected board member Ed Ryan took his oath of office at the April 12 board meeting. Ryan defeated write-in candidate Dennis C. Skelton, who was endorsed by Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, in the April 3 election.

Ryan received 5,932 votes — 67.73 percent — while Skelton garnered 2,826 votes — 32.27 percent — according to official election results from the county Board of Election Commissioners. Ryan replaces Dan Ottoline Sr., who did not seek re-election.

During the meeting, the board elected Ryan secretary while Hilmer and Stegman kept their positions of chairman and treasurer, respectively.

During a period for public comment, a firefighter’s wife “challenged” the Board of Directors to form a committee to educate the public about the district.

Sharon Guy, the wife of firefighter Joseph Guy and a fifth-grader teacher at Blades Elementary School, said, “… I know several years ago, there was the FACTS (Fire District Advisory Committee for Tomorrow’s Emergency Services) committee and unfortunately because of the age of my children, I was not able to partake in that, but I heard really good things about it. And I think possibly you’re going to use some of those ideas still today, which might be a little out of date, but my way of educating, I thought it would be neat to educate — as I was at the polls, I overheard some people talking and they said: ‘You know, I can’t’ — it was hard for me to place the vote because I’ve heard this side of the story and I’ve heard this side of the story.

“They’re smearing them and they’re smearing them, and they wanted the real side. Well, what is the real story? And I said: ‘You know, I can’t answer that right now even though my heart is with the Mehlville Fire District and I do live in this area.’ So I thought it would be nice to get together, have a representative from the board, have a representative from the actual firefighters themselves — the union, whether it be the union or outside the union — citizens like myself, the Oakville Call, which is a main newspaper in our area that I found out through listening to people that seemed to educate most of our citizens for the election. Whether it was slanted or not, that’s everyone’s opinion, but that seemed to be the big educator.

“So I want to challenge the board as to put a committee together to educate our public. To let them know what is going on whether it’s in favor or not in favor of the district, but it’s anyone’s opinion: Do these firefighters make enough money? Well, some of us will say ‘yes,’ and some of us will say: ‘No way, they put their life on the line every day.’ Does their pension mean something to them? Some will say ‘no.’ Some will say ‘yes.’

“But to roll back taxes — is that the healthiest thing for our community? There again, some will say: ‘Yes, I don’t want to pay taxes,’ and some will say: ‘You know what, let’s be real here. You’ve got to pay taxes to run a district, run a community to the best that it can run.’ So I think if we want to try to roll back taxes, you have to have the education as to why we need to roll them back. We can’t just be dictators or have dictators say: ‘Roll them back and that’s that.’

“We need to give those reasons why we want to roll them back. And you know what, we might get done and go: ‘Did we really think we wanted to roll those taxes back? Were we crazy?’ Or we might say: ‘You know what, that is a good idea and we can still provide for our employees and provide for the community ….”’

She later said, “… We need a plan to keep our firefighters here. Part of me wants to know, do we want to get rid of our firefighters and get in young ones and be a training field? Gosh, I hope not. I think that would be a disaster to our district to do that. I don’t know if our citizens realize how many firefighters have left to go to better districts. I mean maybe in our action committee we get other districts’ representatives to help us as to how they run their fire districts that they’re so much better than Mehlville because our firefighters are leaving to go to those districts. I’ve heard so many rumors. I’ve heard rumors of guys leaving. I’ve heard rumors of what’s trying to come in to work at Mehlville …”

Guy also suggested having a district newsletter.

“We used to have a newsletter in the Mehlville Fire District. We could put together a newsletter with all our representatives working together, and I was so glad in the Oak-ville Call I that I read that you were more than willing, Mr. Hilmer, to start working with the firemen. I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to do it. We’re going to all come together and work together.’ So I was really glad to hear that and I’m sure the union is also, and the citizens where I’m representing, the everyday common citizen …,” she said.

Stegman told the Call, “… There have not been a ton of people leaving. Most of them have retired and some of had retired or left the district before we even were sworn in. I had (District Clerk) Carla (Juelfs) pull the numbers, and it looks like there were maybe four people that went to other districts. I know one for a fact came here and he had volunteered at the other district and really wanted that position all along, but it wasn’t available at the time. You can’t blame him. If that’s where he wanted to work, that’s where he wanted to work.”

Some employees have retired while others were terminated, she said.

“I just didn’t want to leave that impression out there that there were tons of people leaving. Another paramedic left to actually accept a full-time job as a director of an EMS education program and he also got his RN (registered nurse) license and is practicing as an RN,” Stegman said. “I don’t know where they’re getting this information, but it’s not factual and I just wanted to clarify that …”

Stegman also said she has been disappointed at the lack of “mutual respect.”

“I respect the other people and I would hope that they would respect me and I know that’s not true, but at the same time that is not going to influence my behavior because I have to be true to myself and my faith and what I believe. I’m just going to try to do the best job I can and try to respect other people’s opinions,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to do everything they want, but I am going to consider it. You have to have an open mind: Would this be something viable? Is this something we need to do? I think that’s the responsible thing to do.

“And as far as committees and things like that, I was part of that FACTS committee and that was the biggest waste of people’s time. It was a preprogrammed committee. The end result was there from day one and it’s a way to make people think that they’re participating when they’re not.

“… I feel that the citizen does have participation in (the process) in that they elect who they want to represent them. Why elect a representative if you’re just going to try to do everything by committee? Then you don’t need to have a board,” she said.

“With the overwhelming number of people that voted us in and then voted Ed in, I think we need to be cognizant of that, and then that’s the direction we need to take the district. And if someone else has another opinion, they need to run for office and get elected, and then that’s how that happens.”