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Allegations against one person should not discourage area residents from showing and giving our support

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Allegations of wrong-doing by the Hardy Volunteer Fire Company fire chief surfaced this past week just as the Bedford Volunteer Fire Department was kicking off its campaign to area residents asking for financial support. Those allegations shouldn’t discourage folks from giving to their local fire and rescue units. Members in those departments from around this area serve us every day and they deserve our financial support.

    Hardy Fire Chief Jeffrey Lee Shifflett is facing at least one charge of forgery in connection with allegations that he misappropriated department funds. Further charges, which could include embezzlement and even money laundering, are being considered by the commonwealth’s attorney’s office. The charge follows a four-month investigation by the Virginia State Police, after an allegation of the misuse of funds was made by another squad member. Just how that judicial process plays out is yet to be seen and Shifflett, who is presumed to be innocent unless prosecutors prove otherwise, will get his day in court. In the meantime, however, volunteers within the departments should hold their heads high and area residents should continue to hold those volunteers in high esteem. They put their lives on the line daily for us.

    When funds are misused as the current allegations suggest, one of the greatest victims is the department itself — and that department’s volunteers. That’s an unfortunate result.

    However the current case plays out there are some lessons to be learned:

    • Local volunteer fire and rescue units deserve the community’s support. If wrong-doing is found in one individual, the department as a whole shouldn’t be punished. In the case of Hardy, the department continues to answer calls and help keep area residents safe. Those fundraising efforts from that department, as well as those from departments throughout Bedford and Bedford County shouldn’t be tainted. The worst result of such an allegation is that folks wouldn’t give or support those departments. Rescue and fire department volunteers give countless hours in training and service. And when we need them, they show up.

    • Departments should have proper accounting practices in place. There must be checks and balances to discourage the misallocation of funds given to those departments. Those who handle the funds must understand that they will be held responsible for the use of the money entrusted to them and they must operate knowing that their actions are subject to scrutiny through an accounting process. The sad fact is that while the overwhelming majority operate with integrity, when someone doesn’t it affects everyone.

    We appreciate those volunteers who answer the calls on our behalf. And we know that they provide a great service to us all. The fire and rescue departments count on donations from individuals to help fund those departments. The cost of providing those services go far beyond what our taxes provide. As recipients of those services, the departments deserve our full support.