Emails shed light on fire company talks

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK — Shenandoah County could keep the Toms Brook Volunteer Fire Department from responding outside town, the government’s attorney noted recently in an email to a county supervisor.

County Attorney J. Jay Litten stated in an email dated Oct. 15 to Supervisor Marsha Shruntz that “It’s within your rights to dissolve [a volunteer] fire department for any reason you deem advisable. There’s no need to go to court.”

The board has been in talks with the volunteer organization over the housing of paid firefighters in the station. No county official has publicly suggested that the government pursue decertification or dissolution of the organization. Representatives of the volunteer department have refused to comment on the matter and have referred questions to the organization’s attorney, Nathan J. Neal.

But Litten, in a series of emails between himself and Shruntz that were provided to the media by Supervisor Cindy Bailey, did state that supervisors could take action against the volunteer fire company. Litten also suggested that the board should end negotiations with the organization until the company’s leadership changes.

Bailey has told the board she felt it was wrong that the county would consider or even discuss the idea of dissolving the volunteer organization. She stated as much in an email she sent to Litten and other officials.

At a board meeting Tuesday, Litten refuted he recommended the county dissolve the volunteer department.

In a subsequent Oct. 15 email, Litten responded in more detail to Shruntz’ questions, stating “If I am recalling correctly, there is a significant building-code issue in the existing TBVFD structure, and your duty to the law means that you need to get your employees out of there,” Litten adds. “To me, that means that you explore options. Where can you get the most bang for the buck?

“Stationing your guys at Woodstock means not many bucks, but not much bang. Building a new facility near TB would be lots of bang and lots of bucks,” Litten states.

The attorney asks if the county could rent another space in the area or run out of the station in Woodstock, noting that other officials could give a recommendation.

“Finally, until there is a leadership change at TBVFD, I’d have no more negotiations with them,” Litten states. “They’ve proven to be so difficult to deal with that all they do is delay solutions, not provide them. (I would listen to Gary’s [Yew] advice as to whether we should decertify them for County fires. There’s probably no cause to do that, but part of me just wants to be done with the TBVFD.)”

Litten then suggests the board not pursue the first option but, rather, should ask staff members for recommendations related to the second idea. If the recommendations “make sense,” the board should make a motion to implement his suggestion.

Litten also warns in his Oct. 15 email about the aftermath of a dissolution and difficulty in recruiting volunteers in a “very contentious environment,” and the question of ownership of the volunteer organization’s property. Litten adds that Toms Brook has the authority to actually dissolve the volunteer organization. While the county could prevent the fire company from answering emergency calls outside the town, Toms Brook can allow volunteers to answer calls in town limits.

In another Oct. 15 email, Shruntz directs comments to County Administrator Mary Beth Price and criticizes Department of Fire and Rescue Chief Gary Yew for their not doing enough to rectify the situation involving the volunteer organization.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com