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In measured tones, panel keeps debating state of Fire Department

STRASBURG — The Strasburg Fire Department held a special meeting Thursday after an article in the Northern Virginia Daily highlighted comments from the department’s interim vice president, Milton Painter, criticizing the training of department members and the maintenance of the department’s equipment.

Following publication of that article, members struck back at Painter’s assessment in emails that were obtained by the Northern Virginia Daily and that were alluded to during Thursday’s meeting.

In one email, Assistant Fire Chief Austin Cucciardo, who is a member of the restructuring committee but was unable to attend the meeting where Painter criticized the department, stated that he was “blindsided” by Painter’s comments.

“These firefighters are that untrained??” Cucciardo wrote. “That’s news to me. These folks, myself included, are constantly and consistently signing up (for) and attending classes. Maybe they aren’t through Strasburg, but through their works [sic] or on their own time.”

But Thursday’s meeting was a much quieter affair than the previous one.

During the meeting, Painter refrained from the harsher rhetoric of his comments during the May 24 restructuring committee meeting. In that  meeting, Painter said that department members lacked adequate training, describing repair of the department as a “monumental task.”

“It’s more of a monumental task than I thought it was going to be,” Painter said at the time.

But on Thursday, Painter conveyed his thoughts on the department in a more measured manner, telling members of the department “I understand” why they were angered.

Cucciardo, meanwhile, described his emails as an attempt to improve communication between the department and the restructuring committee following the restructuring committee’s meeting.

“Maybe it wasn’t the best of ways or the best of words, but it was said,” Cucciardo said. “But the purpose of it was so we could all, instead of being divided in three different spots, it was all communicated through each other.”

Other members of the restructuring committee, as well as interim fire chief Tim Williams, said that much of the earlier restructuring committee meeting was positive.

James Cook, the chief of the Leesburg Volunteer Fire Company and a member of the restructuring committee, praised the participation of members and the turnout of a pancake breakfast the department held during Mayfest.

“That was a hell of a breakfast; it was great,” Cook said.

Cook had also praised the participation during the restructuring committee’s May 24 meeting.

Still, Painter expressed concerns about the department’s vehicle maintenance. In one case, he said, the battery of an automated external defibrillator (AED) on a department wagon was dead. An AED is a device that sends a shock to the heart of a heart attack patient to return the patient’s cardiac rhythm to normal.

Some members of the Fire Department, including Cucciardo, agreed that the equipment failures needed to be addressed but said that every Fire Department has at least some problems with their equipment.

“We always want to strive to be the best that we can, but like it was said multiple times last night, there’s always going to be room for improvement,” Cucciardo said in a phone interview Friday.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the members of the restructuring committee said that much of the committee’s earlier meeting had been positive.

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