Fire Company Under Investigation by Two Counties

A local volunteer fire company that has been under scrutiny for missed emergency calls and inoperable equipment is now the subject of a financial investigation involving the Clarke County Commonwealth’s Attorney.

In a July 15th  joint letter from Clarke County administrator David Ash and Warren County Administrator Douglas Stanley addressed to the attention of Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department Company 6 Fire Chief Harlan “Buddy” Cook, Ash and Douglas told Cook that invoices will not be processed for payment without certification that the ”reimbursement/payment is requested for goods and/or services used exclusively for the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department as an entity, and did not inure in any way to the benefit of any individual.”

“As you know, Warren County has been in the process of having the financial records for the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department audited by an outside third party auditor. Warren County has received the final report and it has been turned over to the Clarke County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for review. At this time there is no timetable set for final review of the audit. That is up to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office,” the letter states.

The joint investigation by both Warren County and Clarke County reflects the fact that both jurisdictions provide funding and oversight to Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department because it responds to fire and rescue calls in both counties. While direct management oversight for Company 6 is provided by Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie, a portion of the fire company’s operational funding is provided by Clarke County taxpayers.

Warren County has required that all payments for SFVFD be accompanied by this procurement form (click to enlarge)

Reached by phone on Sunday, Chief Buddy Harlan characterized the investigation as “nothing severe” but confirmed that gasoline and a small amount of cash had been stolen from the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department.

“We have had a few things go missing around there,” Harlan said, but refused to specify the amount of gasoline or money that had been taken saying that he had not yet been given a copy of the audit report. Still, Harlan said that he believes that an occasional audit is a good process for keeping the county’s volunteer fire departments in check.

Even though Harlan is pleased that Warren County has taken the steps to investigate the thefts, Harlan said that he is frustrated at not yet having seen the results of the financial audit.

“The cost for the audit will have to be paid by the SFVFD,” Cook said. “If we are paying for the report then we deserve to see it. Even though I’ve asked for it, the county has been reluctant to share the information. I’ve made several phone calls, but so far I’ve drawn a blank.”

In the letter Ash and Stanley acknowledge the added administrative burden that the county oversight will place on SFVFD, but believe it is necessary given the results of the investigation saying “We regret having to take these measures at this time; however we feel they are prudent given the severity of the concerns that have been leveled against Company #6 and the information that has been obtained to date.”

Despite any distractions that SFVFD may face as a result of the investigation, Harlan said that his number one priority continues to be the safety of the citizens his company serves.

“We’re not a bunch of thieves,” Harlan said. “We’re fire fighters doing our best to serve the county and protect the citizens.”

Copies of the notification letter were also delivered to Don Hoover, president of the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department and Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie.

Comments

  1. I’m surprised that this Company In SF is still operating…..

    • Mark Harrison says:

      To Clarke 1, Lets see……..whats the alternative to not having the SFVFD in operation……People that would die….Homes and property lost…….Blue Ridge fires that would run wild like in California and burn down entire population centers….Gee, maybe if you would bother to take an active part in supporting the SFVFD you could make a positive impact….Sincerely, Mark Harrison, former original founder and member of the SFVFD.

  2. Sage of the Mountain says:

    Just saying. Lets dont judge SF until all the facts are in. Questions on a financial basis are one thing. Unable to respond are another deal all to together. All rural depts general speaking have problems responding to calls. Thats why we have dual response protocols. One answer to failure to respond would be paid staffing. (More money). Question comes to my mind is “has SF been given the chance to respond to and or correct any financial problems”. Stay tuned. Only in Clarke County.

  3. Wine Taster says:

    “Only in Clarke County” Wow what a true statement. I believe it is very safe to say at this point that this problem with SF Co. 6 is a direct result of a lack of oversight. The readers and contributers of this site learned from the blog after the article on the Shenandoah River Lane fire that there is no County Fire Chief in Clarke County. Nor is there an office of fire/rescue or even an office of emergency services. I contend that if one of these types of offices existed in Clarke County there would have been oversight to prevent this alleged waste and misuse of tax payers dollars. After a little research I’ve discovered that Clarke County is just about alone in this region of jurisdictions that do not have some county/city office that oversees fire/rescue or emergency services. Why don’t we have one? Who is in charge? How does this get prevented from happening again? Who can answer these questions?

    • Who can answer these questions?

      The current BOS.

    • Mark Harrison says:

      Dear Wine Taster, the SFVFD has always operated with almost no oversite since it’s beginning in the late 1960’s and I believe it is a testiment to the strength of character of it’s VOLUNTEERS that it has taken nearly 40 years of operation before something like this should become an issue. Why not put down your wine glass for a minute and try to be helpful. Become a volunteer and supporter of the SFVFD. It is the most affective way to have direct knowledge in the organization and its operations. Your humble servant, Mark Harrison, original founding volunteer of the SFVFD.

  4. Mark Harrison says:

    I was 17 and became one of the founding volunteers of the SFVFD. We fought fires with an old Milk Tanker as a fire truck and with help from all the property owners, volunteers and John Flynn Jr., built it up to a fine fire and rescue station. Because of the remote location, it has always been a challenge to keep the station operating, yet it was sorely needed because of the remote locations it serviced. Over the years, countless numbers of lives have been saved or positively affected. I have kept up with the activities of the station over the long years since the beginning and to suggest that the area would be better off with the station closed is absurd! I’m confident that Chief Cook will weather the current crisis as it seems he has the correct frame of mind in regards to co-operating with the investigation. There have always been nay-sayers and detractors of the SFVFD but then they never did do anything to help. It is the volunteers with a vision of being helpful to their fellows that have always been the backbone of the SFVFD. Best regards to all from Mark Harrison, proud original member and volunteer of the SFVFD.

  5. Wine Taster says:

    Here we go again with the “stop asking questions and volunteer!!” broken record. Same as last time the citizens asked questions and tried to gain an understanding of this system. It is not realistic for everyone with questions and input to join these organizations and become firefighters/EMT’s or BINGO workers. I hope this isn’t every member from fire/rescue’s response this time. It’s not productive or realistic. We’re dealing with a possible misuse of tax payer dollars here. Those who ask questions or provide comment aren’t bad people for doing so. And as for Right Winger’s answer to my question of who can answer: my BOS rep wasn’t able to give detailed answers on my specific questions on fire/rescue in Clarke County. When I asked who could, he wasn’t sure but thought there exists a fire/rescue fraternal association or something. So that reccomendations won’t work too well. Thanks anyway!

    • I knew that’s the response you’d get from your BOS rep. Unless it directly affects them, they don’t know squat.

      I urge the voters of Clarke County to think about that when they vote for their BOS reps next time.

      • livein22611 says:

        Problem is, no one is running against 4 of them. How can you elect a new BOS when no one new runs?

      • I have been involved with SFVFD and the local property owners assoc. I have attended many meetings over the years and I have never ever seen our Clarke county supervisor at even one of these meetings.
        You would think that he would want to make contact with voters once in a while. On the other hand, if he doesn’t have any competition he may feel that he doesn’t need to come to our neck of the woods.

  6. I totally agree with Wine Taster! Just because people have questions doesn’t mean they are ready to suit up and go fight fires….. Seems there is constantly some sort of drama out that way and people are inquiring about it….

    Signed yours truly, Clarke 1

  7. Is everyone forgetting that there is direct oversight of this fire company in the form of the Warren County chief who is identified in the article? Seems the investigation was initiated based on that very oversight, yes, and now Clarke is waiting to review those results?

    Sounds like the oversight issue is just fine. Fiscal operation and in-house oversight of the station in question… maybe not so much.

    And the volunteers for SFVFD need to realize that questions of theft and financial mismanagement have nothing to do with support of their fire company – they should be more concerned than those outside their service area. Unless of course their re-direction of the discussion is because they themselves are aware of or suspect wrongdoing, and thus want to shine the spotlight elsewhere.

  8. Bville-Bud says:

    I was a volunteer at SFVFD in the late 70s as a teen. I sure hope all is well or gets fixed soon. That community really needs them. Best to all of the dedicated hard working firemen and women in Clarke, you save our lives and protect our property, and almost all do it for free; God bless you guys!

  9. What is going at SF. Years ago they had member that stole a safe from the fire house and they still havent learn yet. It looks like the chief needs to step down because he has no control of his dept. When you have things missing from the fire house and fire engine that dont run their a real problem with the leader ship.

    • Bob, As far as I know no one was ever charged with the theft of the safe at SFVFD. I’m wondering how you know that it was a member.
      I know Chief Cook personally and I happen to know that he gives 110% of his heart and soul to the dept.
      If you listen to your scanner as you say you do you would hear that fire companies ALL companies have equipment out-of-service at one time or another.

  10. resident of SF says:

    I am a resident of SF and have been for some time now and personally I am very happy with SFVFD. If it was not for them my property would be gone. There was recently a fire in my home and they responded faster then I have ever seen and had it under control before any other department got there. I also go to all their fundraisers and have gotten a chance to know 90% of their members personally and as far as in my opinion and the opinion of many other residents they are doing a great job. Yes they are having some issues but what fire house does not. I am originally from the city and they have the same issues. Yes they may be under an investigation right now and yes money might have been stolen but who’s business is it. We may pay taxes which pays for SFVFD to stay open but what i don not understand is everyone saying they are misusing tax payers money, how? Is it not true a fire department is there to respond to calls and protect us?? I believe so and I personally know they are getting out on these emergencies because I can hear the siren from my house and within minutes i hear the trucks sirens. So why does’nt everyone lay off of them they are doing the best they can especially when everyone shuns them for the misdoings of one or two of their members. That’s not fair no matter where you go there will always be a bad seed and obviously their working on finding out who it is and will probably do what they have to do about getting rid of that person. Also Bob who cares what happened years ago from what i can tell most of their members are very young just over the age of 18 and there’s also a lot of fresh faces so they probably were not around when that happened with the safe. Also just recently they had a community day and I can say that all their equipment is running including the engine. So unless you know something for sure you should not put it on here.
    Thank you
    A Supporting Resident Of SF

    • resident of SF maybe you need to go out and buy your self a scranner and you will know ever day there is something out of service at co.6

      • resident of SF says:

        Bob let me ask you a question……does your car ever brake down?? Funny mine does my wife’s does the difference between us and them is we have the couple hundred dollars to fix it where as i can guaranteed that it probably cost more the 100 to fix a tire on those trucks or 200 to fix an engine problem on those trucks and with people like you who do not support them where do you want them to get means to fix their equipment. Also do you live in Shenandoah Farms because if you do then you should also realize what its like flying up and down these mountain roads if you do not let me give you some insight on what it is like…….once you come off howellsville all the roads are dirt roads with huge rocks in the middle of the roads, pot holes everywhere, on most of the roads to fit more then one car one of you is forced to go in a ditch and wen it snows or is icy out it takes every inch of power your car has to get around. I know for a fact that the roads has caused problems for almost everyone who lives on the mountain whether its a truck or car and since we all expect the fire department to respond in a timely matter they cannot drive their equipment 3 miles an hour to a call I am also wondering Bob if you are a member at SFVFD since you have a scanner if so maybe you should not be since your so fast to put them down and if your not you must be a member somewhere else and let me ask you is your department perfect HA I think not I have many friends in other departments and in my eyes thier issues are bigger then the issues of the members at SFVFD.
        Thank You
        Huge supporter of SFVFD

  11. Mr Mister says:

    Sounds like we’ll find out where the money went soon.
    Va State Police is investigating now.

  12. There can be no getting around it, Harlan Cook’s response to the Virginia State Police investigation of SFVFD was, “Some rat came out of the department … without giving us a chance to get it right,” per the – redacted -. In the same artical, – redacted – quoted Harlan Cook as lamenting the fact that those with knowledge of the more than $1,000 missing from the SFVFD safe will not get a chance to “make it right” internally. Well, we old-time Virginians know that “lemme make it right” is code after-the-fact for “I’ll do whatever I want and sweet-talk my way out of it later.”
    Thank you, Mr. Whistleblower, for coming forward so that the State Police can shine a li’l light on SFVFD, a true rats’ nest.