The areas of Mehlville, Oakville, Mattese and Sappington of South St. Louis County had little fire protection before 1930. The area was predominately a farming community with light commercial business. The citizens of these communities depended upon the volunteer firefighters from the Lemay, Dewey Heights and Jefferson Barracks Fire Departments for their fire protection.
The Mehlville Improvement Association was formed in 1930 with the group’s mission to create fire service. In 1934, Charles Felz donated a 1925 Ford farm truck that was converted into the Association’s first fire truck. The truck was stationed at Manley’s Auto Repair Shop, located at the area’s busiest intersection of Lindbergh and Lemay Ferry Roads. Fund raising efforts by the Association made it possible to purchase a 1919 American LaFrance pumper from the St. Louis Fire Department in 1936. Around the same time, Robert Manley was selected as the first Fire Chief. After the American LaFrance pumper was destroyed in an accident, the Association purchased their first new pumper from the Central Fire Truck Company in 1940. Based on a Ford chassis, the 500 GPM pumper cost $6,000 and was utilized by the volunteers of the Association for many years. Fire tags were sold for $2.00 per year and used for operational expenses along with funds raised by annual dances. During 1946, the annual cost of fire tags was increased to $5.00, allowing two part-time firefighters to be hired, being paid $20.00 per week.
The volunteer firefighters proposed and organized a fire district in 1953, thereby having the power to collect taxes to support department operations. District boundaries were laid out to cover 47 square miles in South St. Louis County. By the end of 1953, the voters of the area approved the incorporation of the Mehlville Fire Protection District (MFPD) and elected three directors. Robert Manley continued heading the District as Chief and also served as one of the directors. Clifford Zelch was hired as one of the first two full-time firefighters in 1954. Upon the death of Manley in 1955, Zelch was appointed Fire Marshal and promoted to Fire Chief in 1956. With the area rapidly growing, population exceeded 20,000. In 1957, a $300,000 bond issue was approved to construct three fire stations, purchase two new pumpers and increase the paid firefighter personnel to seventeen. Station 1 was located at 7409 South Lindbergh, Station 2 at 5610 Telegraph Road and Station 3 at 11625 Sappington Barracks.
As the area continued to grow, the assessed valuation of the District rose to $112,991,157 in 1963. To keep up with the growth, another bond issue was approved in 1964 for $160,000 to allow for the construction of a fourth fire station, located at 13106 Tesson Ferry Road. By 1966, the District employed forty-four persons who operated four first-line and two reserve pumpers answering nearly 700 calls that year. In 1968, South County Fire Alarm became the first alarm center in St. Louis County, operating from Mehlville Station 1 and dispatching for Mehlville and six other area fire departments.
In 1969, forty-one firefighters joined together and petitioned the International Association of Fire Firefighters for membership, becoming IAFF Local 1889. In 2012, Mehlville Firefighters joined Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri IAFF Local 2665 and continue their pride and dedication of serving the citizens of the Mehlville Fire District.
Mehlville’s fifth fire station opened in 1971 at 11020 Mueller Road. It was built to house the administrative offices in addition to an engine company and Deputy Chief’s quarters. The District instituted an ambulance service that was made possible by a special ambulance tax approved by voters in 1972. The District’s first ladder truck, with a one-hundred foot aerial ladder, was placed in service at Station 5 during 1973.
As building in the District continued to grow, so with it increased the population and emergency responses that numbered 2,776 in 1976. To keep up with the growth and provide the best protection possible, a second ambulance and a sixth engine company were placed in service in 1978. Station 6 is located at 6870 Telegraph Road. The assessed valuation at this time had increased to $353,951,814. In 1981, personnel increased to 112 and alarms jumped to 4,913. A seventh station was opened in 1982 at 5501 Old Lemay Ferry Road. It was assigned the District’s second aerial unit, a fifty-foot Tele-Squirt.
Robert Hupfeld, Sr. was appointed the position of Fire Chief in 1985 upon the retirement of Clifford Zelch. In that same year, South County Fire Alarm was incorporated as a not for profit corporation separate of the Mehlville Fire Protection District. By 1986, alarms had increased to 5,334 and to keep up with the increased demands for EMS service a third ambulance was placed into service. The District’s assessed valuation at this time had risen to $913,715,390.
In 1989, the District constructed a new modern communications/dispatch center and tower on Old Lemay Ferry behind Station 7. South County Fire Alarm moved to the new location and operated there until 2013 when all dispatching from the agency was taken over by Central County Emergency 911.
During 1990, the District placed into service their first heavy rescue squad. The unit is equipped with a wide variety of specialized equipment ensuring the readiness of the District to respond to all types of emergencies and unique rescue situations. A renovation was completed on Station 3 during 1990 that would accommodate the District’s fourth ambulance to be placed into service.
Joseph Gaterman was appointed the position of Fire Chief in 1992 upon the retirement of Robert Hupfeld. The following year, the District purchased property just north of Station 5 along with a house that became offices for the Fire Prevention Bureau.
Upon the retirement of Chief Gaterman in 1998, Raymond Haddock was appointed to the position of Fire Chief. In anticipation of future expansion, the District purchased the property just south of Station 5. Also in 1998, a maintenance facility for fire apparatus repairs was added onto Station 6. During 2000, the District placed their fifth ambulance into service.
The 21st Century
In 2000, The Mehlville Fire Protection District undertook its largest project to date by expanding the facilities at Station 5. The expansion project consisted of a new addition and renovation to the existing station and administrative offices, with completion in 2001. The addition included new administrative offices and living quarters for firefighters and paramedics as well as two additional apparatus bays and garage facilities for staff vehicles. Remodeling of the existing building modernized the fire station and converted the former administrative office into a training facility. At the present time, an engine company, ambulance, heavy rescue, 100-foot aerial platform, Deputy Chief and Field Training Officer are assigned to the station.
Chief Haddock retired in 2005 and Jim Silvernail was hired as Chief. Shortly thereafter, the District began addressing the issues of aging facilities. Stations 1, 2 and 3 had been constructed in 1957 with Station 4 being constructed in 1964. At the time of their construction, there was a single engine company and three on-duty personnel assigned to these stations. Present day operations saw an engine company and ambulance with a minimum of five personnel assigned to each of these stations. Larger apparatus, additional personnel and concerns with gender specific facilities necessitated modernization of the buildings.
Station 1 was completed in 2006 and is now located at 3241 Lemay Ferry Road at Dovedale Lane, just across from Mehlville High School. The current location is approximately 3/4 of a mile further north than the original Mehlville Fire District station, but better serves the northeastern corridor of the District.
Station 2 was the next in line to be constructed, work being completed in 2009. The present location of 5434 Telegraph is also a bit further north than the previous station and just like Station 1, better serves the northeast corridor of the District. The three bay facility currently houses an engine company and ambulance with the third bay providing space for a third ambulance.
In 2011, personnel from Station 4 moved into their new facility at 13117 Tesson Ferry Road, just across the street from their original facility. Similar in the overall layout to Station 2, there is currently an engine company, ambulance and the District Water Rescue equipment assigned to Station 4.
The most recent Station relocation was completed in 2012 for Station 3 which is now located at 5810 South Lindbergh. While the main aspect of the station is similar to the layout of Stations 2 and 4, Station 3 also includes a full basement with training facilities as well as a 5-story training tower on the back side of the building. A pumper and ambulance are staffed at Station 3 along with the District’s reserve heavy rescue squad.
Currently, the Mehlville Fire Protection District provides fire protection and emergency medical services to a population of 110,000 residents in fifty-two square miles of South St. Louis County. The District consists of seven stations with seven engine companies (including two seventy-five foot quints), an all-terrain pumper, a heavy rescue squad, a one-hundred foot aerial platform and six ALS ambulances. Personnel consist of XX firefighters, paramedics and administrative staff. It is anticipated that the District will respond to nearly 13000 calls during 2014. The District currently holds an Insurance Services Organization (ISO) rating of Protection Class Three. The assessed valuation of the District’s currently stands at $2,227,618,170.
The Mehlville Fire Protection District has become one of the finest fire and emergency medical services in St. Louis County due to the dedication and devotion of the men and women who have served in the past and currently serve residents of the District. The Mehlville Fire Protection District is committed protecting life and property by delivering quality fire, safety and emergency medical services.