Silvernail proposes $5.3 million two-year capital projects program


Staff Reporter

Mehlville Fire Protection District Chief Jim Silvernail last week recommended roughly $5.3 million in capital im-provement projects for the Board of Directors to consider during the next two years.

Silvernail’s recommendation includes construction projects and equipment he would like to see included in the 2006 and 2007 budgets.

After the Sept. 12 meeting, some district employees, family members and residents gathered outside the Ad-ministration Building and voiced their displeasure about the actions of the board’s majority, Chairman Aaron Hil-mer and Treasurer Bonnie Stegman, both of whom were elected in April. Among the group’s complaints were that Hilmer cut off residents addressing the Board of Directors and would not allow Chris Francis, president of Local 1889 Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fight-ers, to speak.

Silvernail’s recommendation includes construction projects and equipment he would like to see included in the 2006 and 2007 budgets — $2.3 in 2006 and $3 million in 2007.

“While the figures look high, I weighed out what I feel is needed to improve the infrastructure, along with the improving stock of apparatus, vehicles and firefighter safety,” Silvernail told the board. “While this is a two-year plan, if the board deems it necessary, the plan can be lengthened up to five years.”

The list includes replacing Firehouse No. 2, which was built in 1957 and is the oldest station in the district. The district will need to purchase property and build a new station, with an estimated cost of $1.7 million.

The chief also asked that the board consider constructing a fire training tower in the area for an estimated $400,000. The district currently uses training facilities in Jefferson Barracks.

“I’m a very big advocate of training, I have been my whole career,” Silvernail said. “I feel that this is extremely important to erect a training center.”

The list includes replacing an eight-year old pumper, and replacing two ambulances, following the district’s replacement schedule. The chief also recommends purchasing five additional thermal imagers so each pumper is equipped with the devices, replacing worn-out protective clothing, replacing equipment on the pumpers and ambulances, repairing the fire stations, and replacing three staff vehicles, including the chief’s 1999 Ford Crown Victoria.

Silvernail said one of his priorities is purchasing boats for rescues along the district’s 11.7 miles of Mississippi River and 13 miles of Meramac River. Silvernail recommended purchasing eight two-person inflatable boats for flash floods and a larger motor boat for rescues on the Meramec River. He said the district does not own any boats and relies on life jackets and ropes for rescues in flash floods.

“At any given time, you can have flash flooding,which requires inflatable boats and I do feel very strongly that each engine should have one of those on there,” Silvernail said. “It can save a firefighter.”

The district is in the process of formulating the budget for next year so the board members will have to decide how much of the capital improvement projects actually will be included in the budget.

“I do believe that this probably needs to be stretched out a little longer,” Silvernail said. “I’d like for the board to go back, go over it, and then give me the direction and parameters on which way you want me to go on this.”

Secretary Dan Ottoline asked the chief why the report was not done sooner, before the board set its tax rate Aug. 29. The board had elected not to apply a 33-cent tax-rate increase approved by voters in November. The 33-cent tax-rate increase was designated to fund the first five years of a 10-year plan that would have been used to re-place older ambulances and medical and fire equipment, raise district employees’ salaries, repair and replace worn-out buildings and provide up-to-date training for firefighters and paramedics.

“Chief, wouldn’t it have been better to have this last week, before we set the rate,” Ottoline said.

Silvernail replied, “It probably would have been, but I just didn’t get to it because of a lot of other ongoing things.”

Francis told the Call he was unhappy that the union was not consulted on the chief’s capital improvement plan.

“We have usually been included to offer our opinion be-cause again we’re the guys out there that are using this equipment, that is driving this equipment, that is living in these quarters,” Francis said after the meeting. “Why wouldn’t you want to have our perception on what it is that you’re trying to get for this district?”

The chief had said during the meeting that he had formulated the project list with the help of his deputy chiefs, Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti, Assistant Chief EMS Phil Minnella and Fire Marshal Ed Berkel.

At the start of the meeting, Ottoline asked Hilmer why the Local 1889 president’s comments were removed from the agenda.

“When I originally set that up, I figured it would be a good way to have dialogue between the union and the board,” Hilmer replied. “It quickly denigrated into remarks calling for resignations of board members, telling board members they don’t know how to do their jobs, making demands and other asinine insinuations, so I didn’t feel that it was accomplishing anything.

“I had sent a notice to Mr. Francis, saying that if he had a specific proposal, he can let the chief or myself know ahead of time, and he could pull a chair up to the table, and we could talk about it then,” Hilmer said.

Instead, the union president’s comments were restricted to correspondence, where Ottoline read a letter Francis had sent to the board.

“Show me the asinine insinuations that were made because I can go through all my records and I’m pretty much factually based on everything that I’ve said, so if there’s something, I would love for them to bring it up,” Francis told the Call.

Hilmer also did not allow Francis to speak during the public comment section after Francis submitted a speaker’s card. The board had approved a policy July 5 that requires speakers to submit a speakers’ card before the meeting and does not allow district employees to speak, but requires them to submit questions and comments through the chain of command.

“I am a taxpaying resident of this fire district,” Francis told the Call. “If you don’t want to hear from me as the president of the local, that’s fine, but don’t stifle me as a resident of this district.”

After the meeting, a group of residents, district employees and members of their family discussed how to counter the actions of Hilmer and Stegman.

The group discussed initiating recall elections, which it will not be able to begin until November, and filing a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.