Arrests may lead to talks about oversight

The weekend arrests of six members of the Strasburg Volunteer Fire Department on misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor could result in discussions surrounding potential oversight of the department.

In an interview on Tuesday, Strasburg Mayor Rich Orndorff said that potential discussions would likely hinge on the result of the cases.

“I think the discussions would be of what role do we have, what role does the town play, what role should the town play, what role should the county fire and rescue play,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff added that the potential discussions would likely involve talks about how the town can work with the Fire Department to avoid future incidents of personal misconduct, real or alleged.

“I think the further discussions would be how do you prevent things of this nature from occurring again by ensuring that we work closely with the volunteer leadership, the county fire and rescue, the department, the county administration and that sort of thing,” Orndorff said.

But it is unclear what exactly the discussions would be like or what new legislation, if any, the town might implement.

Currently, the town provides equipment, facilities and funding to the department. But the town has little control over the department itself. According to the town’s code, the town cannot withhold funding unless the department fails to meet state standards for volunteer fire departments.

The town’s code also authorizes the Fire Department to make its own bylaws.

“We do not have direct oversight over them, which is unfortunate in certain cases, such as this,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff stated that he was reluctant to have the town run the Fire Department because of the economic impact that decision would have on the town.

“Personally, I don’t know that we want to get into the business of having a fire and rescue department of the town because it becomes more of a burden on the taxpayers, because it takes away from the volunteer-led departments,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff added that town and county officials began discussing how to react to department members’ conduct in April when an  affidavit accused department members of raping a 17-year-old girl and sharing the video of the encounter.

The officials – Orndorff, Strasburg Town Manager Wyatt Pearson, Shenandoah County Administrator Mary Price and Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley – discussed potential oversight of the department, Orndorff said  But they focused on whether there would be any problems with maintaining an adequate fire service.

“We all feel comfortable that we do have adequate fire protection with the remaining volunteers that are in place and any assistance that we would need from the county fire and rescue,” Orndorff said.

In a November interview, Dale King, the department chief and one of the members who was arrested over the weekend, said that the department places people who have been charged with a crime on administrative leave.

“We have a policy, if anybody is charged with any crime, they automatically go on administrative leave, which means they’re not allowed to participate in any department activities, represent the fire department or work calls,” King said at the time. “Policy is to wait until there’s a conviction and we’ll deal with it properly depending on the case circumstances.”

King and department president Glenn Mason have not responded to requests for comment.

Lewis Millholland and Briahnna Brown contributed to the reporting of this story.