Strasburg demands major changes from Fire Department

Citing an “unacceptable” and “morally reprehensible” culture within the Strasburg Fire Department, the Strasburg Town Council has demanded widespread changes within the department.

In a scathing letter sent by the Town Council and Mayor Rich Orndorff late Thursday, the town demanded that the Fire Department allow the Town Council to appoint an interim fire chief and appoint a restructuring committee. Those changes, the town argued, are necessary for the Fire Department following the arrests of six current or former department members on misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

“The situation occurred under the leadership that continues to manage the Fire Department and the action necessary to reform an impaired Fire Department has not been taken,” the letter states.

Glenn Mason, the Fire Department’s president, stated that the organization voted to comply with the demands during their monthly meeting on Thursday.

But Mason added that the department would like to make a recommendation to the Town Council for the interim fire chief.

The department’s decision to comply with the demands means that the Fire Department could have an interim fire chief as soon as Monday. Mayor Rich Orndorff and Town Manager Wyatt Pearson said that the Town Council plans on voting to name a new interim fire chief during their work session on Monday.

The interim fire chief would replace Dale King, the current fire chief, who is one of the five current or former members accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl.

Orndorff, who, along with Town Manager Wyatt Pearson, attended the Fire Department’s meeting and presented the town’s demands, cited the Fire Department’s vote as evidence that the town and the Fire Department should be able to work together on implementing changes to the department.

“There was a majority of those members present that had the spirit of cooperation to make the Strasburg Fire Department a much better organization,” Orndorff said.

According to the letter, the restructuring committee will temporarily have control over the Fire Department’s administrative functions. Pearson said that the Fire Department’s administration would continue doing day-to-day administrative work but that the restructuring committee would review major changes within the department.

“It is our intention to work collaboratively within the existing administration to help them with anything they need to continue their day-to-day functioning and as we progress, make changes that we think will result in a proper structure,” Pearson said.

The committee will eventually make changes to the department’s articles, bylaws, rules and regulations, the letter states. Under the town’s code, the Fire Department currently has the authority to write its own bylaws, but Pearson said that the Fire Department’s decision to comply with the town’s demands should give the committee authority to write the department’s bylaws.

The town’s attorney, Nathan Miller, has not responded to a request for comment.

The restructuring committee will be comprised of two members chosen by the Fire Department and five members chosen by the Town Council.

Mason stated in a letter to Orndorff that the Fire Department has chosen Austin Cucciardo, the assistant chief and current acting chief for the department, and Milton Painter, a member of the department, as its representatives.

Cucciardo declined to comment, forwarding any questions to Mason.

Orndorff said that he will chair the committee and that Conrad Helsley, the chair of the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, will also appear on the committee. But the town has not determined the remaining three members of the committee, Orndorff said.

It is not yet clear how long it will be before the restructuring committee forms, much less how long it will take before the committee enacts any changes within the Fire Department.

“We’d like to do this as expeditiously as possible, but we don’t have a set timeline as to when,” Orndorff said.

Pearson said that finding the remaining three members for the committee will take some time because “our intention for these spots is to look for some varied experience, possibly external experience from the county as a whole.”