Relations have perhaps never been more strained than they are today between the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company and the appointed and elected officials of the town’s government. However, all the distrust and innuendo circulating currently can easily be ironed out as long as cooler heads prevail.
Time is a powerful concept and one of its wonder is it can heal, and that’s exactly what needs to take place in the dispute between the city and the volunteer firemen.
A lot has been said in recent weeks, namely by City Manager Dennis Dare, the architect of a set of controversial “talking points” for the future of fire service in Ocean City, and Fire Company President James Jester and Fire Chief Chris Larmore. The end result of a lot of strong, and arguably personal and unprofessional, comments is a stalemate over the future of fire service in Ocean City and the role the volunteer men and women will play.
All the players involved including the aforementioned officials and the Ocean City Mayor and Council need to take a step back here and refocus. Nothing is going to be worked out the way emotions are dominating the discussion these days. In the fall, the council, which was reluctant to be involved in the process in the beginning, must take the lead on transitioning emergency services in Ocean City. It’s their responsibility.
The elected officials need to steer the ship here with input from Dare, Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald and the volunteer fire company brass. Together, the transition of moving to a paid fire chief and putting the volunteer company under the broad emergency services umbrella can and should occur. However, not until all the brouhaha has settled down and hurt feelings have had time to heal.
When it’s time to begin discussions again, we believe the place to start is with Dare’s talking points, which have been called “radical,” because it’s a launching point. That’s not likely to happen, but we think the council and fire company officials should get started there and hash out their differences specifically. It will allow the council to hear what the volunteers and city staff have to say about each issue and then decide where to go from there.
We actually believe all the controversy of late surrounding this issue will inevitably turn out to be a positive. All this discourse is actually healthy because the sides are not that far apart by our estimation. There are strong differences in how the situation has been handled, but they both share the same goals. Sure, there are ill feelings right now and clearly the city and the volunteer firefighters are not on the same page. It’s no surprise and it’s fine in the grand scheme of things.
A couple of months need to lapse to let heated emotions simmer and starting sometime after Labor Day the council needs to have a meeting with volunteer leaders and hash it out. There is no need for the customary small talk over respect and courtesy and all that nonsense. All that circle talk is what led Dare to draft his “talking points” in the first place. All the formalities are unnecessary and a waste of time. It’s jus spinning wheels.
This is a business negotiation in a way. The volunteer fire company has a future in the Ocean City area. It always will and it should. That’s not debatable. What role it will play in fire service is what needs to be solidified. The negotiations need to more professional and productive than tedious and respectful. If that happens, a solution can be reached and it likely lies in a compromise of some sort.