Fire department president resigns

Chris Ritenour

STRASBURG – The president of the Strasburg Fire Department has resigned less than six months after he was appointed.

Chris Ritenour’s resignation, effective immediately, was received late Sunday by town manager Ryan Spitzer. It was addressed to fire department Vice Chairman Chad Sherman, Chief Jeff Wharton and the department’s rank and file membership.

Ritenour said in the letter that the department “is in need of someone who does not have a conflict of interest and has the ability to speak freely and work with the town and county in a manner that is not constrained and serves our department best.”

He said he will not accept “any nominations for administrative or operational positions at next week’s business meeting. I will forward a meeting excuse in a separate mailing, as I have some personal business to attend to and will not be in attendance.”

Ritenour said in an interview that he considered himself an interim president after the former president left, and he was chosen as a replacement. The president serves two-year terms that end in odd-numbered years. The department is scheduled to meet Thursday to elect new officers.

Ritenour said he “never intended to stay indefinitely as fire department president.”

He added: “During this time frame, I stepped up to challenges. I believe we have made some great progress in the department, and there are others in the department who can take the reins and keep this department moving forward.”

The department was jarred in August when three veteran members wrote letters warning that what they perceived to be lax discipline and poor leadership were undermining morale and effectiveness.

They specifically cited discord between younger and older members of the department related to incidents involving alcohol and training certifications. They also questioned expenses charged to the department’s credit card by Wharton. Wharton has said an internal investigation showed no misuse of the credit card.

Shenandaoh County Fire Chief Gary Yew said Ritenour’s resignation letter “came as a surprise to me.”

“I am not real clear on his reasoning,” Yew said. “I’m not sure what to make of it or what precipitated his decision.”

Ritenour, who works as chief operator at the town’s water treatment plant, wrote that he hopes the next fire department president will be someone who “has more time, patience, knowledge and wisdom to lead and direct the department.”

The letter concluded: “Please understand this is not negotiable, and I will not reconsider.”

Ritenour said Monday that the conflict of interest mentioned in the letter referred to his roles with the town and fire department.

“I don’t feel comfortable being put in a position between the fire department and town of Strasburg,” Ritenour said.

Council member John Hall, who is chairman of the council’s public safety and recreation committee, said he did not learn of the resignation until a reporter called him to ask for comment.

“I did not know about it until this instant,” Hall said. “It is a volunteer organization that requires a lot of time and dedication, and it seems to me that there are a few people who are not happy.”

Hall added that he has confidence in the department’s ability to answer fire calls and protect lives and property at fire scenes. Several calls have involved dispatches requiring aid to members of Hall’s family.

“We need to praise these people, not criticize,” Hall said of the department.

Ritenour, a department veteran, said he hoped to remain as a rank and file member “as long as they let me or my body will let me.”

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