STRASBURG — Members of the Strasburg Fire Department Restructuring Committee have decided not to override a recent Fire Department decision to allow 19-year-olds drive department vehicles, despite criticism of the idea by committee members.
During a restructuring committee meeting on Monday, committee member Jim Cook said that he was concerned about whether or not a 19-year-old could drive a fire vehicle.
“I don’t think a 19-year-old, regardless of what they’ve done in the past, has the life experience to drive a 50,000-pound vehicle,” Cook said.
Milton Painter, the department’s interim president and a member of the restructuring committee, said that he agreed with Cook.
But the committee members said that they did not want to vote against the measure because the department’s members had already voted in support of the change.
Mayor Rich Orndorff said that if they voted to override the department’s decision, “What message are we sending? Because we are trying to get back to the department running themselves and not us making all those decisions.”
Painter said during the meeting that he did not know the exact vote of the department but said that “it certainly wasn’t unanimous.”
Because the members declined to override the department’s vote, 19-year-olds will now be allowed to train to drive with the department.
Painter said that the department did not make its decision based on a need for more drivers.
But while the members expressed concerns about whether 19-year-olds are old enough to be able to operate a fire truck, training requirements may prevent any 19-year-old from being able to drive a truck unsupervised.
In order to drive with the department, members have to pass Emergency Vehicle Operator Course training. In addition, they must run 10 emergency calls with supervision from an approved driver. Those calls are for fairly minor incidents.
Those training requirements may mean that department members will not be able to drive unsupervised until they are close to 21 years old, Painter said.
“Things may take care of themselves,” he said.
Meanwhile, Painter said that the insurance company the Strasburg Fire Department uses “didn’t like” the department’s decision but added that “they understood it.”
The Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue’s age requirements allow 19-year-olds to drive. The Strasburg department’s recent vote means that the department volunteers and career staff members will both be allowed to drive if they have met training qualifications and are between 19 and 21. Currently, Painter said, career staff who are qualified to drive and are between 19 and 21 can do so, while department volunteers cannot.
“If we keep it at 21 and a career staff has met the qualifications and stuff, we cannot tell him, ‘You’re not driving our fire trucks,'” Painter said.