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Fire commission denies certificate to former St. Louis city fire chief


BY BILL MILLIGAN

For the Call

He was in charge of emergency services for the city, county and state during the 1993 floods, but according to the St. Louis County Fire Standards Commission Neil Svetanics is not competent to be Chief of the Lemay Fire District.

The commission June 17 voted 3-3 on a motion that read: "Based on the opinion and advice of the County Counselor pertaining to section 6.040 of the St. Louis County Charter, Chief Neil Svetanics should be grandfathered.''

Voting in favor of the motion were Chairman Cal Worth, Chief Bob Metcalf and Dennis Murray. Voting against the proposal were members Dolores DiRie, John Schuster and Harvey Seigel.

"The tie goes to the runner, right?'' said Svetanics last week. He has been Lemay Fire Chief since Dec. 2.

Commission rules require a majority for passage. The decision was ripe with irony.

On Nov. 19, 1999 Svetanics was named honorary fire chief of 32 fire districts in the St. Louis Area including Mehlville, Fenton and Lemay. From 1986 through 1991 Svetanics trained most of the firefighters at work in St. Louis County in his capacity as Chief of the St. Louis Fire Department.

Svetanics graduated the St. Louis Fire Academy in 1962 and was battalion chief at St. Louis International Airport for two years, 1980 and 1981.

"The airport is located entirely within St. Louis County,'' Svetanics said.

"The commission has no standards for fire hose, breathing apparatus, rescue tools or dozens of other emergency response items,'' said Lemay Fire District Chairman Jim Stonebraker. "Yet, they deny certification to our chief.''

On June 11 Worth told attorney Matthew Hoffman "it will not be necessary for (Svetanics) to complete the Academy training program.''

"I am satisfied that Chief Svetanics satisfies all applicable St. Louis County Charter and ordinance requirements and will recommend to the Commission when it meets next week that Chief Svetanics be certified as a firefighter within St. Louis County,'' Worth wrote.

As St. Louis Fire Chief, Svetanics helped create mutual aid and first response regulations that require fire crews from adjoining jurisdictions to respond to emergencies automatically.

"It isn't uncommon to have two city units at the scene with my crew and one from Mehlville,'' said Svetanics. "Counting me, that's nine professional firefighters working the incident who are not certified by the St. Louis County Fire Standards Commission.''

Worth declined to comment on the Svetanics vote.

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