White focuses on safety, health as Mehlville Fire Protection District chief

First of two parts

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

Tim White has focused on safety and health as chief of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

The Board of Directors in April 2009 selected White to succeed Jim Silvernail, who was named chief in April 2005. White was named administrative chief officer and assigned to work alongside Silvernail, who retired earlier this year when his contract expired.

White envisioned Mehlville as a “premier” fire district when he was tapped to be Silvernail’s successor, and great strides have been made over the past year, he told the Call. In fact, he recently presented to the Board of Directors a list of more than 100 accomplishments he has achieved to move the district forward.

Of that list, White said, “… Most of this was done to build the substructure and hence the structure to carry the weight of a premier department. All these changes and what I consider accomplishments were necessary to prepare for the 21st century to meet the demands for our taxpayers, and it is my belief that they would like us to meet that demand head-on and know that there is a firm hand at the helm. In order for that to be illustrated, I put together this list of accomplishments so that people did indeed realize that this department is moving forward and moving up.”

White’s accomplishments run the gamut from conducting personal interviews with each district employee to developing and implementing new testing procedures for district leadership positions.

Many of the changes he has implemented “are not only for day-to-day operations, but also to meet the demands of the community in a cataclysmic situation such as an earthquake, such as a large plane that would crash into the community. Such situations would heavily tax our resources. A lot of these changes and policies that I put in place are to meet not only the needs of those cataclysmic things, but also an MCI, which is a mass casualty incident,” he said.

“People don’t really think about the fact that Mehlville has railways that move through here carrying hazardous materials,” the chief said. “We have the interstate system, which continuously has large tractor-trailers carrying various hazardous materials through the community. We also have a situation that could happen such as an earthquake and if that were to happen, do we have the plan in place to meet the needs of this populace? It’s a very large area and there are several things to take into consideration as far as the deployment and the strategic placement of apparatus.

“All of these things have to be taken into consideration. So I think a lot of these are getting the mindset of our personnel to be thinking big. We are big. We are the best. So therefore we have to make sure that we are capable of delivering the best.”

To help ensure Mehlville employees are capable of delivering the best, White has assembled 15-member special operations teams whose members have been selected through proficiency training conducted by nationally recognized instructors.

Of the Special Operations High-Angle Rope-Rescue Team, White said, “… We’ve got a lot of situations that would require rope rescues. We have the bluffs. We have bridges and we have high-rise structures. We have a lot embankments and such that would require us to either rescue an individual or put them in a stretcher or what we call a litter and get them to a transport vehicle.”

Training for that team is performed by experts from California, he said.

“… Anybody that knows California knows that they do a lot of repelling off their bluffs — a lot of cliffs in California. So we’re bringing the top instructors here to qualify our rope-rescue technicians at a level of Tech III, which will be the highest in St. Louis County. So the Mehlville Fire Protection District is going to have a crack unit of specialists in high-angle technical rope rescue,” the chief said.

The same holds true for the Special Operations Fast-Boat Rescue Team White has assembled for the district.

“… In order to have the training at the level that I feel the taxpayers want — our citizens want and deserve — I had to scour the United States and look for an instructor that had the highest proficiency and the highest training,” he said. “So I found someone from the United States Coast Guard who has been in fast-water, fast-boat rescue operations for their career. I brought him in here and then he trained our people to the United States Coast Guard status. Now this is the person who trains the people who are the trainers at the university … I went straight to the source at the highest level in the United States and brought in the best and now we have the best at the highest standard.”

White also initiated the first-ever wellness program for district employees.

“… Considering the fact that cardiac arrest is the No. 1 killer of firefighters, I would have been remiss if I didn’t address that particular issue,” he explained. “So I put together a wellness program for the firefighters and paramedics to try to appeal to them to start eating more healthy and to exercise. One of the first things I did was put in an exercise device, which is an elliptical. And those are designed to give the maximum amount of cardiac exercise in the shortest period of time. It is much better than a treadmill because it is easier on the knees. The knees are another thing that become affected with our firefighters and fire paramedics — their knees tend to wear out.

“So I have to think ahead of the curve and look 10, 15, 20 years down the road and look at this young man or young woman coming into the force, what can I put in place that No. 1 provides the attitude but also a structure that will give them the ability to exercise safely and efficiently — keep them in shape? Keep stressing the fact that their cardiac health is important, but also the overall maintenance of their body because that’s what we use to deliver the service. Whether it’s picking up a stretcher or picking up a hose line, it is physically demanding.”

The chief emphasized he and the Board of Directors share the same vision.

“This Board of Directors is interested in a top-notch district. They like to watch the taxes and miraculously they have found a way to cut taxes, keep the taxes low, yet raise the level of service,” he said. “They’ve given me the honor and the privilege to lead this fire district to a premier status. Where did these members of the Board of Directors come from? Well, they came from the very people in this community. So really what we’re talking about is it’s the community who said: Hey, I got a different idea. How about you give us more service? How about you make it better than it’s ever been since the very beginning, and while you’re at it, I’ve got a challenge. How about you cut my taxes while you’re at it?

“We’ve done that. We’ve met that challenge. I wish the United States was that way. I wish the state government was that way. What a novel idea. But the interesting thing is it makes me very proud because I’m a member of this community. I’m not just the chief of this department. But I know what I always thought could be done is being done.”

The second part will focus on how some of White’s changes have been received by employees.