Stegman challenged by Baumgarth for Mehlville fire board seat


Fred Baumgarth, left, and Bonnie Stegman.

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Treasurer Bonnie Stegman is seeking re-election to a fourth term in the upcoming Tuesday, April 6 election, challenged by former firefighter Fred Baumgarth for a six-year term.

Baumgarth, 65, 9744 Green Park Road, Green Park, is a retiree and a newcomer to public office. He is a lifetime member of the International Association of Fire Fighters and previously ran unsuccessfully against MFPD board Secretary Ed Ryan in 2019.

Baumgarth said he was seeking office to “continue public service after 33 years as a Mehlville firefighter.”

Stegman, 67, 6775 China Lake Drive, Oakville, is married to John Stegman. Together they have two grown children, John and Katherine.

She is an associate professor and registered nurse at Maryville University and has served on the MFPD Board of Directors since 2005.

Stegman earned her associate degree in life sciences from St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, her EMT Certificate from St. Louis Community College-Forest Park and her EMT-paramedic certificate from St. Louis Community College. She also earned her associate degree in nursing from St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley, her undergraduate degree in nursing from Maryville University, as well as her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

She is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society, Missouri Emergency Medical Services Association, The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, National Association of Emergency and Elected Fire Officials, Missouri Association of Fire Protection Districts, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and Oakville Township Republican Club.

Stegman said she was seeking re-election to “continue to service the residents of the MFPD.”

What do you consider the single most important issue in this race and why?

Baumgarth: “See questionnaire responses.”

Stegman: “Continuation and expansion of quality services provided at a low tax cost.”

Other issues you perceive in your race and your position on each:

Baumgarth: “See questionnaire responses.”

Stegman: “Continuation and expansion of the Mobile Integrated Health/Community Paramedic Program.  Continue and expansion of the Critical Care Paramedic Program. Continuation and expansion of the fire training center.”

Are you satisfied with the leadership of Chief Brian Hendricks?

Baumgarth: “Yes. I am satisfied and look forward to working with him and the direction he is going. I do have some ideas I would like to work with him on and will bring up in an open board meeting.”

Stegman: “Yes, very much so. Under his leadership, multiple new programs have been established for the safety and care of the residents of the district.”

Do you support the district’s ALS pumper program and the 2005 decision that all new hires will be firefighter/paramedics?

Baumgarth: “I do support the district’s paramedic pumpers. I would like to see some cost-benefit analysis done to see if we are getting the best bang for the buck. I would like to see all future hires be firefighter/paramedics. It gives the most versatility and the best service to everybody.”

Stegman: Yes, I was a part of the board at the time.  This was essential at the time in order to improve medical care to the residents. As health care has evolved and most of our calls are healthcare-related (EMS), we have employed critical care and community paramedics to provide these services to the residents of the district.  We have also increased the number of ambulances available to care for the residents. These personnel are not firefighters.”

Do you believe the current amount of the district’s reserves is adequate?

Baumgarth: “Yes, I believe having one year’s budget is a great position and if all possible remain here. After that we need to look at future needs and staffing and salaries and benefits improvements with the excess of 12-months reserve.”

Stegman: “Yes.”

How do you envision the relationship between the Board of Directors and the firefighters’ union?

Baumgarth: “I would like them to have a seat with the Board of Directors’ table. As management and labor, we need to row the boat together and come up with ideas and solutions together for the current and future that benefit our district.”

Stegman: “I envision an amicable and open relationship. We currently have a good relationship with them. Their representative brings issues to open board meetings so that we can work together to make the district function well.”

Would you accept campaign contributions from Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters or any other firefighters’ union, political-action committee or related group?

Baumgarth: “I have accepted no donations and am not planning to. I am paying for this out of my own pocket.”

Stegman: “No.”

Do you support the reforms that have been enacted by the Board of Directors since 2005? Why or why not? 

Baumgarth: “I do support some of the reforms imposed in 2005. There are items I feel we need to review to change with the times and do the best for all the stakeholders to improve our operations.”

Stegman: “Yes, as I said, I was present and voted for all of the reforms.”

Do you believe that fire districts in St. Louis County should be consolidated?    

Baumgarth: “With respect to consolidations, this issue has been talked about since the 1980s. I am open to the idea and not totally opposed. I have no thoughts pushing this issue right now.”

Stegman: “No.”

How did you vote on the fire district’s Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 in the April 2009 election?    

Baumgarth: “I did oppose the issue. I thought it was short-sided and not thought out long term.”

Stegman: “I voted for them.”

Should the Board of Directors eliminate ambulance billing? If yes, how do you propose to replace that revenue? 

Baumgarth: “I do not like ambulance billing, however to maintain operations I do not see how we can eliminate that funding and recoup that funding unless Proposition 1 and Proposition 2 are revisited again and pay for the expense of undoing them.”

Stegman: “No.”

Should facility and equipment purchases be funded on a pay-as-you-go basis or should the district borrow money?

Baumgarth: “I would like to see pay as you go. However, with the questions above, the district was founded and built on bond issues. I would have to work with Chief Hendricks and see what his needs assessments are and meet with the district financial officer to (see) what the budget can handle and his plans to meet it. Then in an open board meeting we can lay it all out and invite and advertise in all interested parties.”

Stegman: “I believe we should be fiscally responsible and save for identified facility and equipment needs.”

Do you believe the Board of Directors has faithfully adhered to the letter of the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law, also called the Sunshine Law? What would you do as a board member to ensure the board’s compliance with this law?

Baumgarth: “In review of the district Board of Directors meeting minutes, it does seem they spend every meeting in closed session. As a board member, I would want the meeting minutes to show when we enter and leave a close session. I would also want the minutes sent to the stations as was past practice, and I would want to have reports from all sections of the departments on the agenda and captured in the minutes. I would also want a copy sent to your newspaper to print biweekly in a report to the community and as a board member, I would try to refrain using email with the other board members. And any emails I might do, I would want to enter into the public record in an open board meeting.”

Stegman: “Yes. Continue to have open meetings with access for the community, the press and interested parties.”

Do you agree with the Board of Directors’ decision to change the district’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined- contribution plan? Please elaborate.

Baumgarth: “I was opposed to the pension switch. All avenues were not explored and presented (side by) side for a long-term solution. Other departments have made it work so I do not know why Mehlville cannot. With this line of work and working over 30 years in this field, I do not think the employees have to be stock market-dependent if they can retire that day or not. I understand the employees have come up with a solution. It needs to be looked at with an open mind and explored in an open board meeting.”

Stegman: “Yes, defined benefit plans are in general underfunded and a liability.  With a defined contribution plan, the employee owns and directs their own pension.”

Do you believe the district has a problem with employee turnover? Please be specific.

Baumgarth: “I started in Mehlville in 1981. People flocked to Mehlville. It was the district to be in. After the 2005 election, this district lost more people than I ever saw until my retirement. The district lost people to other departments/districts for better working conditions and salary and benefits. I would like to work on this issue with management and labor and try to make Mehlville a destination place instead of losing personnel to other departments and districts. A stable workforce pays many unseen dividends.”

Stegman: “No.”                                                              

Do you believe the Mehlville Fire Protection District is moving in the right direction? What changes would you suggest, if any?

Baumgarth: “That depends on how you define movement. Yes, it is moving. I would want management to evaluate some programs within the departments to see what cost benefit they have and the impact on service. One change I would like to see is a column in your publication bimonthly decrypting the actions and issues/challenges the district has. The other issues all depend on the budget, like having a training officer like we used to have. With the size of the Mehlville fleet, a second mechanic like we used to have. I would like to see each station have an ambulance in it 24/365 and finally stations 2, 4, and 5 have more staffing on the fire trucks.”

Stegman: “Yes, I think we are headed in the right direction. I would continue to evolve with the current and future trends in healthcare and fire suppression.”

If elected or re-elected, would you support the board voluntarily rolling back the district’s tax rate?

Baumgarth: “I am not opposed to a rollback if it can be absorbed or if the Hancock Amendment dictates it. I’m not here to raise your taxes. I just want to work together with the other board members, management and labor to make sure all things can work in the budget. Then we can discuss that matter further at length in an open board meeting.”

Stegman: “Yes.”                                      

Do you support the district’s new critical care paramedic program?

Baumgarth: “With respect to the critical care program, I need to be educated more on it from the district management. I would want to see the benefits to the district versus the costs and to make sure we have the infrastructure to support this long term. I like the idea of being a leader in the local EMS.”

Stegman: “Yes, I was a part of the approval process. This is a prime example of being proactive in the care of the residents of the district.”

Are you willing to debate your opponent?

Baumgarth: “I am not willing to debate.”

Stegman: “Yes.”                                                                                                                               

How many Board of Directors meetings have you attended?

Baumgarth: “I have not attended board meetings. After the last time I ran for a seat, I was harassed by an incumbent board member. I do look at the Mehlville minutes on the website. Why waste my time on a board meeting attendance when so little business is conducted in the open session?”

Stegman: “All meetings with the exception of two or three. (I don’t remember offhand). I feel it is important to attend all meetings as the elected representative of the district residents.”

Have you been endorsed by any groups, organizations, unions, etc.?

Baumgarth: “I have not looked or approached by any individual or group or funding for an endorsement. I do not even expect this publication to support me either.”

Stegman: “Not at the present time.”                                                   

Do you think the district needs to place a tax-rate increase before voters? Why or why not?

Baumgarth: “The tax increase question we would have to discuss it as a board with management and any other stakeholder in an open board meeting. I do not think there is a need right now, plus we have the Proposition 1 and 2 to explore. Furthermore, on the federal level currently I have concern how that is going to affect people. In the event if a tax proposition would have to be entertained, I would most likely explore a bond issue before a tax increase. I would also want input from citizens, civic groups and political groups within the Mehlville Fire Protection District. These would be the stakeholders that would help guide a decision.”   

Stegman: “No, we have the necessary funds to provide the services we currently have and plan for the future.”

The district now has a training center. What else should the district do to advance training?

Baumgarth: “I want a training officer to run and guide the district fire training. The EMS chiefs would be responsible for EMS training. As managers they should have a plan and run it. I have seen the training centers within the district. With respect to the Baumgartner Road facility I am assuming you’re asking about, I wish it was bigger and more functional. It was needed, but I think the board should have waited longer to build it and banked more cash to build it. Now as we into the future it will cost us more dollars to improve it. You should go out see some of the other facilities in the county. I am also concerned currently there is only one certified burn tower instructor. We need more.”

Stegman: “We are planning to add a fire training building as additional training classrooms on the fire tower site. We will also enhance the education for our paramedics. Having the relationship with Washington University EMS as our medical direction will provide additional education.”                                                                                                   

Has the district done enough to increase employee benefits?

Baumgarth: “I think the new deductible plan is a great win-win situation for everybody. I think what they have done with cancer was a step in the right direction. An issue I would like to discuss further with the board if elected is sick leave. I would also like to talk to labor in an open board meeting and identify any concerns they have and as said before, we need to look at the pension and the pension fund/funding. I would like to see these futures in the budget, so it is all transparent.”

Stegman: “Yes, we are always mindful of the needs of our employees and investigate any additional needs.”

Should the district switch to 48-hour shifts? Why or why not?

Baumgarth: “With the 48-hour shift I have some concern with respect to call volume. Mehlville is the highest performing department in St. Louis County. I have concern if we have enough staffing to make it work safely for the citizens and the department. I know it’s a focal point of some of the turnover too. If labor can come up with a  plan that management feels acceptable for a trial basis we need to look at it as a board. I know Mehlville is one of the few who do not operate this way. One benefit I do see is synchronizing our shifts with the surrounding departments.”

Stegman: “No, our district is too busy for that length of shifts. It would be detrimental to both the employees and the residents’ health and safety.”

Are you satisfied with the fire district’s level of service and response times? Please elaborate.     

Baumgarth: “I think we might be able to do better. But we also must live within our means. That is why I brought up staffing ambulances and adding to staffing to the fire trucks. That is why I want to see a biweekly column in your newspaper and Facebook about district activities. Have you seen the changes over at the old St. Anthony’s (Mercy South) complex lately or the increase in new construction within the Mehlville district? I would have to look at response times with the board and management at an open board meeting and identify problems and come up with solutions that give the best service possible. I would think there is some issues. Another piece of that puzzle is to examine the infrastructure to hold the necessary equipment and personnel to deal with response times. There is a national standard to measure up to. I think that should be our goal.”

Stegman: “Yes. We have increased the level of service with firefighter/medics, critical care paramedics and community paramedics.”

Is the Mehlville Fire Protection District better off today than in 2004? Why or why not?    

Baumgarth: “Are we better off than 2004? I think I have addressed that with my responses. I have been around in shape or form of public service all my life. The Mehlville district is a lot busier than it ever has been. There are changing times and challenges within to make this service work for the budget and for the citizens. If elected i would like to see if we can keep it moving forward. So yes, we are better off, but we can’t sit still either.”

Stegman: “Yes. The tax rate is lower, and we have increased services and equipment. We also added four new firehouses, the EMS training facility and the fire tower.”

Are you satisfied with the overall financial condition of the Mehlville Fire Protection District? Please elaborate.    

Baumgarth: “Yes, I am with the respect we pay our bills on time and there is no huge debt. I read the financial reports from the state auditor and the report on the district’s website. I do not know if the current situation is sustainable. I hope so. I am conservative with my own funds and will be with the district’s. If elected I plan in an open board meeting to have the district finance officer give a report and see if he is concerned and see what his outlook is.”

Stegman: “Yes. We are financially sound.”

Are you satisfied with the level of training the district provides employees?  

Baumgarth: “If the budget can handle it, yes. I would like to training officer appointed to the staff. I would like to see this person manage the training and the infrastructure for the district’s firefighter/rescue staff. I want to make sure we have enough staff to run the burn tower. I think presently there is enough money spent on EMS training and enough personnel training staff to keep  doing a good job. I realize EMS is a large part of the district operations and that will consume a lot of training dollars on equipment and the training thereof.”

Stegman: “Yes, but we are always evaluating our training needs.”

Are you satisfied with the equipment and apparatus provided for district employees?    

Baumgarth: “We need to make sure the management and the rank and file have a voice and listen to them so the citizen as the end user gets the best we can provide. With that said, we need to make it part of the budget and plan annually what we are replacing so every time we get a new ambulance or fire truck it comes equipped and rotates through its life span here and then is replaced again at the end of its cycle. This will show transparency with an inclusive cost.”

Stegman: “Yes.”

Are you satisfied with the condition of the district’s facilities? Are improvements needed at any of the firehouses?    

Baumgarth: “With the district facilities I think I have mentioned things in the questionnaire that reflects on it. I do think some of these stations are going to have be addressed and sometime soon. Stations 6 and 7 are getting up there in age and lack storage space for bigger trucks and keeping reserve trucks. Stations 2, 3 and 4 were obsolete the day they were opened. They build for that day’s level of service, not the future. Again, whatever the path this going into the future, everybody needs to come to the table at an open board meeting and discuss it. Again, I would be happy to hear from everybody at an open board meeting.”

Stegman: “On the whole yes, but we have plans for future renovations of House 6 and 7. We also are still planning to add a training building to the fire tower site.”

Do you support a city-county merger?     

Baumgarth: “I do not support a city-county merger. I do support the use of mutual aid agreements and not opposed to training together or working on standardized operating guidelines together.”

Stegman: “No.”

Do you support the current relationship between the fire board and the union?   

Baumgarth: “I do not know if there are any issues between them currently. I assume it works. If elected I want to work with management and the union in open board meetings to row the boat together. I would like a harmony.”

Stegman: “Yes.”

Would you support consolidating the fire district with another fire district? 

Baumgarth: “I do not think presently we could consolidate totally with another district or department. There are too many tax rates, salary, benefits items that would have to be addressed. As like the above question with a city-county merger, there are some pluses we can do. I think perhaps there could be some other issues to examine like group purchases or insurance groups or share some services like fire investigation or inspections. We need to examine it as a board and see if it behooves us to pursue.”

Stegman: “I would have to have more information to see if it would be beneficial to all involved.”