Five St. Louis County suburbs are looking to consolidate the administration of their fire departments, but some firefighters are pushing back against the plan.

Clayton, Brentwood, Richmond Heights, Maplewood and Rock Hill could soon answer to a new command center proposed as the East Central Fire Command.

Maplewood Fire Department Chief Terry Merrell says he and the chiefs of the four other departments have worked on the idea of consolidating formally for about a year and talked about it for many more. Merrell says the demands on fire department administrators have evolved over the years to require expertise in areas like hazardous material and domestic terrorism response.

“While we've managed to keep up,” he says of smaller departments like his, “…that's not the most efficient way to do it.”
Merrell says consolidating those duties between the five departments would “absolutely” mean better service for residents of the five cities.

“We have no confidence that these city managers have any interest in taking any input from fire fighters,” says Kurt Becker with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2665.

Becker works for the Clayton department and he worries departments like his could lose resources while smaller departments like Rock Hill will gain resources.

For instance, he says Clayton is the only department with a full time fire marshal who is already over worked. Becker says adding responsibilities in other cities could be a safety hazard at a time when construction is booming and inspections are in demand.

“There's no way that it can be done efficiently or safely without four additional full-time personnel dedicated to it which going to add another $300,000 or $400,000 to the total cost.”

Merrell says there are details of the plan that still have to be worked out. And says administrative models like this are more common outside of the Midwest.

“This gives us the ability to provide better service to our fire fighters and better service to our communities,” says Merrell who adds that the departments would retain their individual names and no fire fighters would be laid-off as a result of the consolidation.

The Richmond Heights city manager plans to introduce the proposal to the city council on Monday night and Becker says firefighters will be there to be heard.

---> READ | Full memo opposing merger