County fire chief named interim Strasburg chief

STRASBURG — Days after demanding major changes from the Strasburg Fire Department, the Town Council has named a new fire chief and moved toward assembling a team of outside experts to bring oversight to the department.

During a special meeting on Monday, the Town Council voted unanimously to immediately name  Shenandoah County Fire Chief Tim Williams the department’s interim fire chief.

The move means that Dale King, the Strasburg fire chief who was placed on administrative leave in early November,  has now been officially removed from a leadership position.  He was placed on leave after an affidavit was unsealed alleging a 17-year-old girl and her mother identified him as one of “five individuals involved in sex acts” with the girl.

The five defendants have each been charged with a single count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Although the Fire Department says King was placed on administrative leave in early November, incident reports indicate he continued to respond to fire calls 20 days after the affidavit was unsealed.

Williams’ appointment came during a special meeting where Town Council and town staff members more broadly probed how they could bring swift action to the department.

Mayor Rich Orndorff said in the meeting that the department members he and Town Manager Wyatt Pearson spoke with during a fire department member meeting on Thursday were largely cooperative.

“During that discussion, it appears to both the town manager and I that [the department members] do want to work both collaboratively and cooperatively with the town and the council, in the best interest of the citizens and the department as well,” Orndorff said.

But the meeting was otherwise occupied with a focus on how to bring accountability and professionalism to a department where, Town Council members said, those qualities have been lacking.

Much of the 10-minute discussion centered on which members the town should name to a committee that will rewrite the Fire Department’s code and bylaws. Orndorff said that the Town Council agreed that he should chair the restructuring committee and that Conrad Helsley, the chairman of the count Board of Supervisors, will serve as the committee’s vice chair.

The Fire Department has two seats on the committee that it can choose. The department voted to select Austin Cucciardo, the department’s assistant chief who served as acting fire chief from December until Monday, and Milton Painter, a department member.

But the town has yet to select three other seats. Pearson said that he planned to select one person from the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, one longtime resident with previous experience in the department and one outside person with experience on the operational side of a fire department.

Councilman Scott Terndrup, however, wanted some representation from the council, arguing that the body should serve a role in reshaping the town’s Fire Department.

“I think there are things that council might require from the membership to right the ship,” Terndrup said.

But Councilman Don LeVine disagreed, saying that the department needed guidance on how to become more professional.

“The management has not organized itself, prepared its firefighters to do their job in a professional manner,” LeVine said.

The people who could best provide that guidance, LeVine said, were people with specific expertise in volunteer fire departments.

After the meeting, Councilwomen Kim Bishop and Barbara Plitt both came to Orndorff saying they also opposed placing a council member onto the committee.