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Judge dissolves Shenandoah Farms fire company

By Joe Beck

The Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department succumbed to years of personnel and financial scandals Wednesday after a Clarke County Circuit Court judge signed an order confirming the company's demise.

Circuit Judge John E. Wetzel Jr. signed an order for declaratory judgment appointing Warren County Executive Douglas P. Stanley as receiver "to wind up" the department's affairs and complete its dissolution.

No one from the former fire company appeared at the hearing to contest the order, which was sought by the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

The order laid out the county's case against the fire company, listing seven examples of misconduct since the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue assumed financial oversight of Shenandoah Farms in 2011 in the aftermath of a scathing audit.

Most of the complaints in the order came to light in June, when the Board of Supervisors in Clarke and Warren counties announced they were seizing complete control of the station at 6363 Howellsville Road and replacing its members with paid career staff from elsewhere in the county.

The order cited a refusal of leaders and members of the fire company to follow orders from Warren County Fire and Rescue Chief Richard E. Mabie; the departure of 10 or 12 members within the last six months; a rapid decrease in responses to fire and rescue calls; members sleeping at the fire station in the same beds with members of the opposite sex; and members posting inappropriate pictures on social media sites.

In June, county officials said someone built an "obscene snowman" on the company property and took a photograph that appeared on Facebook.

Other accusations included drinking alcohol while on duty and allowing non-members to ride on vehicles responding to emergencies.

Warren County Attorney Blair Mitchell said in an interview that the hearing marked the end of a years-long struggle to salvage the fire company and then, when those efforts failed, to find a way to disband it.

"It was painful getting to June 18 when the two boards took that action," Mitchell said of the decision to disband. "Since then, it's been very smooth."

Warren County fire officials said the judge's order clears the way for a new beginning that they hope will lead gradually to restoring the fire company as a local volunteer fire service.

Chief Richard E. Mabie said the station has been operating smoothly since the takeover.

The paid county firefighters have been welcomed warmly by local residents, some of whom have sent gifts of fruit and vegetables to the station, Mabie said.

Mabie said several volunteers from the disbanded company seeking reinstatement have been accepted. Others have not.

Mabie said he had hoped to see more volunteer applications from members of the community waiting for the clouds hanging over the company to lift. That has not happened so far, he said.

Mabie said he hoped that the formal conclusion of the Shenandoah Farms saga Wednesday will encourage more volunteer recruitment.

"What we're hoping is that this order is what potential volunteers were waiting for to send in an application," Mabie said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com

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