OCEAN CITY – Fallout from a meeting between the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) and the Mayor and City Council reverberated throughout the town this week with the announcement from the OCVFC that it will be relocating its services to West Ocean City.
"The OCVFC has no alternative but to relocate our operations to West Ocean City, and to relinquish the primary delivery of fire and rescue services within the corporate limits to the Town of Ocean City. The Town has been notified, and has also been further requested to provide a date certain when their career staff is in place, and they no longer require our services," read a press release from OCVFC Fire Chief Chris Larmore Wednesday.
The press release came after a meeting with the Mayor and Council that was intended to address current issues with the town’s fire services.
A work session of the Mayor and Council Tuesday left many questions about the future of a combination fire service unanswered when the meeting ended in a stalemate among the City Council members. A 3-3-1 vote among the council resulted in a failed motion for fire services to be united under one interim fire chief, Larmore.
"The Mayor and City Council believed that the responsibility for fire service could be shared between a city employed director and the existing fire chief. (Some officials intended to transfer this authority without the knowledge of the OCVFC). This decision maintained a divided fire service under differing directives and policies, an unacceptable public safety practice," read the press release regarding decisions last year to merge the volunteer and career fire services under the directive of both fire chief Larmore and Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald.
Although the council voted unanimously to move forward with a strategic planning retreat, consensus could not be reached on the appointment of Larmore as fire chief.
The split vote among the council reflected mixed emotions among council members, with some feeling that the appointment of Larmore would bring unity and others feeling that more questions needed to be answered.
Contention also arose when the career firefighter/paramedic Mike Maykrantz, who is the president of the local union, stated that his organization could not work under the directive of a volunteer fire chief.
In response to the failed vote, Larmore wrote, "the current fire chief would be forced to return to an equally indefensible and potentially dangerous situation where he has responsibilities for life matters over which he has no authority."
As for any future negotiations with the Mayor and Council, the press release left a grim outlook.
"The fire service has consistently been ranked highest in public opinion and trust while the local governments have been ranked low. This duplicitous behavior by some of the Mayor and City Council clearly demonstrates a basis for this low esteem. The OCVFC cannot function under this umbrella of distrust and deceit," it read.
Council members weighed in on the outcome of the meeting, remaining hopeful that headway will be made.
"I’m not going to allow this to happen. A lot of people are working on this as I speak," said Councilman Jim Hall on Wednesday.
Hall reported that he would be inviting Larmore to return to next week’s City Council meeting in hopes of resolving the issue. Hall voted in favor of the motion to appoint Larmore as interim chief Tuesday. Hall also wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper encouraging his fellow council members to have a change of heart.
"What’s left in my heart is hope and I’m sort of left wondering what happened," said Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.
Pillas made the motion Tuesday to appoint Larmore as interim chief and was vocal throughout the meeting about her support.
"Our council is responsible now for making sure we are adequately staffed. We need to show leadership now," she said, "How do you replace all those people, your talking about millions of dollars."
Councilman Lloyd Martin abstained from the vote on Tuesday.
"I think we need to take a step back. We need to really look at the situation before we start jumping to any conclusions," said Martin. "I didn’t want to alienate anyone. I wasn’t sure what he [Chief Larmore] wanted, there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before we make that decision."
Martin stressed during Tuesday’s meeting that he would need more time before he could vote either way on the issue.
As for the next step, Martin maintains that the strategic planning retreat, along with further research, is the answer.
"We need to get to the strategic planning retreat and really work things out, that’s the next step," he said, adding that the Mayor and Council needs to play an active role. "There’s no reason to quit now, I want this to be done and done right."
Council President Joe Mitrecic also expressed a need for more time to answer all the appropriate questions Tuesday, voting in opposition to the appointment of Larmore.
"As far as the vote went, I felt that there were too many operational questions that had not been asked or answered to make such a monumental decision," Mitrecic said yesterday.
Mitrecic also wrote in a statement yesterday, "I would hope that the OCVFC reconsiders their latest course of action. The meeting yesterday was very productive in many ways. This Mayor and Council, more so than any previous, wants to come to the table and work these differences out to benefit all parties involved. I would hope, as we move forward, that the OCVFC would sit beside us at that table. This council inherited a situation that dates back to the first city manager. I do not think to ask the OCVFC to work with us for another 10-12 months is that unreasonable, if in the end we have a world-class combination fire service to protect the people and the property of the Town of Ocean City."