More Strasburg firefighters criticize department
STRASBURG – Dan Rothstein is not the only member of the Strasburg Volunteer Fire Department dismayed over what he sees as a lack of training, discipline and leadership within the organization.
At least two other firefighters have written blistering letters to town and county officials warning of dire management and personnel troubles besetting the department
Thomas Frazier, a 21-year veteran, wrote recently that he had resigned as assistant chief of operations and as secretary on the board of directors, citing stress that made the positions “untenable for me.”
“With my experience and training, I am scared for what will happen on a large or serious incident with the current leadership and some members answering calls,” Frazier wrote. “I feel that a preventable loss of life or a line of duty could be a real possibility.”
The concerns of Frazier, a 21-year veteran of the department, echo those found earlier in a letter sent by Rothstein, also a long-time department member, to the members of the Town Council, the county Board of Supervisors, Shenandoah County Fire Chief Gary Yew and other top officials.
The Board of Supervisors and the Town Council are scheduled to hear representatives of the fire department address the criticisms from Rothstein and Frazier at regular meetings Tuesday.
Another department member, Bradley Polk, sent a letter to Yew and Tim Williams, operations chief with the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue.
Yew acknowledged reading the letters from Polk and Frazier and repeated earlier comments that he plans to give Christopher Ritenour, the new chairman of the fire department’s board of directors, a chance to fix what ails the department.
Yew also gave a vote of confidence to Strasburg Fire Chief Jeff Wharton, who has been fiercely criticized by Rothstein, Polk and Frazier.
“We’ve met with Jeff, and he has expressed confidence, along with the president, that we can work together and try to improve conditions at the first station,” Yew said, referring to the Strasburg department’s numerical designation.
Telephone messages left for Ritenour and Wharton were not returned.
Shenandoah County Administrator Mary Beth Price said she has twice met informally with other government officials, most recently a few days ago, to discuss the situation at the fire station.
“We’re directing any comments related to their internal affairs to the actual leadership of the fire company, and that could be either Chris Ritenour or Mr. Wharton,” Price said.
The letter from Polk condemned what he called “a lack of leadership and authority” at the station that has created a split between older and younger members. Polk criticized the hiring of a contractor to clean the station after younger members proved unwilling to do so.
“The members that hang out at the firehouse are so entitled and lazy that they do nothing, and the department now pays CINTAS to clean the station monthly,” Polk wrote, adding that “the only thing our younger generation of members are worried about is riding up front, blowing the siren and talking on the radio.
“They have no interest in the work that it takes to keep up a fire station, hence the department has (now) begun to pay to have the firehouse cleaned.”
Another department member, Nathan Mauck, spoke up in an interview Monday in support of Rothstein, Frazier and Polk. Mauck’s wife, Alice Mauck, has also written a letter stating her worries that her husband’s life “may be in the hands of these untrained and undisciplined firefighters.”
Nathan Mauck, who has been with the department for 21 years, said he had little confidence that Ritenour would be able to restore order and discipline, citing Ritenour’s long ties to the department.
Mauck said the department would have a better chance of making a fresh start with new leadership coming from outside.
“The lack of leadership causes all of these behavioral issues,” Mauck said.
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org