Eric Hinson may be the only person in the state of Missouri to hold the title of fire chief in two different cities.
Hinson was named fire chief for the City of Ladue at last week’s city council meeting, taking over the reins from Ted Jury, who retired after 29 years of service to the city overall, and moved on to be the chief in Brentwood. Hinson has served as Ladue’s assistant chief the past seven years. Jeff Johnson was elevated to assistant fire chief at the meeting. Johnson has been on the Ladue fire staff since 1996.
Hinson serves in a dual capacity as St. Clair, MO's fire chief. In St. Clair, the staff is smaller in numbers and the territory to cover is much wide.
The St. Clair Fire Protection District has a staff of 17 paid and 35 volunteer firemen, including Hinson's son Josh, 20. The district includes mostly farmland and rural areas. It covers more than 240 miles and a number of rivers and streams. Ladue has 31 fulltime fire fighters and covers 8.65 miles of more urban terraine.
Firefighting has been in his blood forever. “When I was a little kid, all I could think of was becoming a firefighter. I was a volunteer for St. Clair when I turned 16 and got to drive the truck when I became 18.”
He was first hired by the St. Charles Fire Department November 22, 1990 and was let go due to budget cuts one year later to the day. “Four of us were let go, and I was the only one who turned down a recall. I was hired in Ladue (Feb. 21, 1992), and I guessed it all worked out,” he said.
Hinson is a country boy by nature. He and his wife Shelley have a home on 20 acres of land in St. Clair, and they own his grandfather’s farm in Dittmer, MO, some 20 miles away. Josh, their eldest son, maintains the family farm.
Hinson has been involved in some significant rescues. For instance, The May 23 edition of the Washington Missourian recounts a water rescue of a 3-year-old girl by the St. Clair fire department on the Meramec River in Franklin County.
For recreation, Hinson likes to fish for crappie on the local streams. The family owns a condominium at the Lake of the Ozarks and Tyler, their younger son, 15, attends St. Clair High School.
Hinson is grateful to be entrusted with the chief’s position in Ladue. “I really enjoy working for Mayor (Anthony) Bommarito. He cares a lot about our staff,” Hinson said. “I am very happy to have this position.”
Hinson likes the adrenaline rush of answering the next 911 call. “You can tell it in the inflection of the voice of the dispatcher if the call is routine or a really big one,” he said.
Hinson sees no conflict with holding the two positions. “They know (in St. Clair) that if I am on the job, and there’s a call for a fire involving Ladue, then I need to leave right away,” he said.
The chief wanted to earn his stripes, one at a time. In 2001, he was offered the process to ascend to the captain’s position, and he politely declined. “I felt I needed to prove to the men on the truck I needed more time to take that position,” he said. He earned the assistant chief's position in 2004.