Northwest News

Board puts Orting fire chief on leave

Fire Chief Randy Shelton of Orting Valley Fire and Rescue was placed on administrative leave this week pending the results of a hush-hush investigation.

Fire Commissioner Troy West and fire union president Jon Burgos said Friday that they wouldn’t discuss the reasons behind Shelton’s suspension, nor the nature of the investigation.

They directed questions to Fire District attorney Jacqueline McMahon, who was out of the office and not available for comment.

Shelton leads Orting Valley Fire and Rescue, otherwise known as Pierce County Fire Protection District 18, which serves the area surrounding Orting. Since last fall, the City of Orting has also paid the district to provide fire service within city limits.

Shelton didn’t return a reporter’s call for comment Friday.

Orting Mayor Cheryl Temple said she’s always had a good working relationship with Shelton and doesn’t know what he did to earn a suspension.

Shelton served as chief of both the city’s Fire Department and the Fire District between 2006 and 2008.

Temple said the district’s three-member Board of Commissioners placed Shelton on a 30-day paid suspension at a special meeting Tuesday.

In the meantime, Dave Wakefield, an assistant chief with East Pierce Fire & Rescue, will run day-to-day operations, Temple said.

A call to Wakefield’s office wasn’t returned Friday.

“I’m just disappointed that this is happening,” Temple said Friday. “I’m not necessarily disappointed in Randy because I don’t know what this is about.”

Patty Villa, a member of the Fire District’s Citizens Advisory Group, said she’s received no details either.

“We were surprised,” Villa said. “He’s been a good fire chief out here.”

No recent audits have found fault with the Fire District or its financial leadership, said Mindy Chambers, spokeswoman for the state Auditor’s Office.

Shelton was appointed chief in October 2004, shortly after an audit found fault with former acting Chief Doug Bishop, who led the district for part of 2004. The special audit found Bishop “incorrectly received $2,600 in overtime pay,” and that in some cases he received it when he didn’t work a 40-hour week.

Shelton placed Bishop on leave and then terminated him in 2005.

Villa credited Shelton with reuniting Fire District 18 and the City of Orting Fire Department. They split in 2002 over disagreements about who should pay for which services.

The district and the city resumed joint fire operations in 2005, though the city retained a separate chief until 2006.

The joint operating arrangement continued until last fall, when Orting officials decided to disband their department and pay the district a monthly fee for fire service.

The city now pays the district about $1 million a year, which includes in-kind payments in the form of equipment, said Orting City Administrator Mark Bethune. The city also owns the Public Safety Building that serves as Fire District headquarters.

Shelton has said in prior interviews that he hopes to further combine the two operations.

Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058