Fire Department rejects bid to banish King from its ranks

STRASBURG — Hours after former Strasburg Fire Department Chief Dale King was sentenced to jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, the Strasburg Fire Department narrowly voted against a measure that would remove King from the department.

During a Fire Department meeting on Thursday, George Rathore, the interim secretary of the department, said that the department should wait to make a decision until King has appealed his case.

“We owe due process to every individual, and I think that by overstepping that due process boundary, that we open ourselves up to other legal actions there,” Rathore said.

Three of the four people who were sentenced on Thursday to charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in a series of cases involving King and several former department members have appealed their cases.  King, Andrew Key and Nathan Hirschberg are appealing their cases.

But while King has filed an appeal in his case, he also pleaded no contest, meaning that he is only appealing the length of his sentence and not any determination by the court of his guilt.

During King’s sentencing, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Louis Campola said that King had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The victim in that case said during her testimony in Key’s trial that King had supplied her with alcohol during a party at her house.

Because of Thursday’s decision, King will remain a lifetime member of the department. But he will also remain on administrative leave, Rathore said, preventing King from responding to Fire Department calls or conducting any fire department duties.

King’s presence as a member of the Fire Department, Rathore said, is only as a “person on paper.”

Still, King barely escaped termination from the department.

Bradley Polk, a department member, proposed a measure that King be removed from the department “due to conduct unbecoming of a firefighter.” When Rathore argued that Thursday’s vote be delayed until after King has finished appealing his case, Polk refused to drop the measure.

In the end, the department voted against Polk’s measure in an 8-8 tie.

Ordinarily, the fire department president settles all ties. But Vince Poling, the interim president, declined to vote because he was just appointed interim president on Monday by a committee set to restructure the fire department.

“I don’t think it’s proper to do at this time,” Poling said of his decision.

The Strasburg Town Council voted to set up a restructuring committee to bring about changes to the Fire Department after stating in a demand letter that the Fire Department leaders had not taken significant steps to institute changes themselves.

The committee voted during their first meeting on Monday to remove the former department president, Glenn Mason, and the former department vice president, David Atchison, from the department. They appointed Poling and Milton Painter, to fill  those positions, respectively.

In an interview on Monday, Strasburg Town Manager Wyatt Pearson said that the Strasburg Town Council had problems with the response from the leadership of the Strasburg Fire Department to criminal investigations against department members.

In Thursday’s Fire Department meeting, Pearson said that the committee did not have problems with Atchison’s leadership. Instead, he said, the committee wished to replace the president and vice president positions within the department.

In an email to Pearson, Atchison stated that he took the position of fire department vice president in order to make changes within the department.

“I had nothing in the disciplinary actions of the men involved in the allegations in 2017, in fact I took the [vice president] position to try and deal with the situation appropriately because I also disagreed on how the situation was handled,” Atchison said. “Since I have taken the position I have not been included in any of the [closed-door] meetings or daily functions of the department by the President.”

Atchison will maintain his position as the building and grounds administrator for the department.

The restructuring committee also requested during their meeting Monday that the Fire Department recommend a replacement for Chris Pangle, who was operations captain until the department voted to accept his resignation from that position in March.

During their meeting Thursday, the department voted to recommend Tim Mawyer for that position.

Mawyer is currently training captain for the department. The department members also recommended to move Jamie Stephens into the position of training captain.

The operations captain position will remain vacant, however, until the restructuring committee votes on the Fire Department recommendation during their meeting on April 20. Pearson said that he suspects, but is not certain, that the restructuring committee will also have a vote on whether to approve the department’s recommendation that Stephens be made training captain.

COMMENTS