OCEAN CITY — As City Manager David Recor holds private talks with members of the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) this month, Fire Chief Chris Larmore has made it clear he is not worried about what his superior is going to hear from his personnel.
With questions continuing to abound about general operations with the OCFD and at least two internal investigations being conducted — one by the city’s labor law firm, Miles & Stockbridge, and another less formal one by Recor and Human Resources Director Wayne Evans — Larmore is endorsing the city manager’s decision to meet privately with staff members under his domain without command staff present.
“That originated from a staff meeting [back in January]. I invited Mr. Recor to that meeting. I and my command staff have nothing to hide. David made a comment at that meeting that he is very much into an open management form of government and that he reaches out to all the employees of the town of Ocean City. He said he wanted to let everybody know we are all here together as a team,” Larmore said. “What started as a simple introduction of sorts somewhere has been misconstrued that we are going to go out to the firehouses, and we are going to fix problems and hear something.”
The chief expects the meetings to be a rehashing of what Recor, Evans and members of the Mayor and Council already heard during the recent union contract negotiations as well as what was documented in a slew of recent grievances that have been filed against recent decisions made by the OCFD.
“He’s not going to hear anything he hasn’t already heard,” Larmore said. “Trust me, the few who may not be pleased have expressed their opinions loud and clear already, and we just went through [union contract] negotiations and that’s a time when a board made up of those who go into to negotiate have the audience to review schedules and concerns. That audience included Mr. Recor, Mr. Evans, the mayor and other members of the council. It’s all out there already … I have absolutely no concerns. I hope it’s meant with the intention it was originally meant. I have absolutely no objections, nor should I.”
As of last Friday, Recor had met with three “platoons” of career firefighter/paramedics to hear concerns and gauge whether they are “something that needs to be addressed at the management level” or are union matters.
Larmore said he welcomes specific areas of criticism from detractors; whether it’s his own displeased employees or their spouses who recently formed a support group that continue to meet regularly. He said he challenges the media and the disgruntled group of career firefighter/paramedics to bring specific incidents where he handled an area of concern inappropriately.
“I have the shoulders. It’s my job and I have to take it. It still comes down to one question. I want to know the one thing that someone has brought to me that was not appropriately dealt with. I want one thing and nobody can give that to you. If it was reasonable, they got it. They can’t bring anything they didn’t get. That’s a fact,” Larmore said. “I plead to you bring one thing to me that someone asked for that a layperson or an educated professional can say, ‘chief you should have taken care of this and you didn’t’. Bring it forward. I challenge you or any of them for it.”
Meanwhile, Miles & Stockbridge is expected to appear before the Mayor and Council in the near future to issue a report and make recommendations based on an internal investigation it conducted after an OCFD captain filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The complaint reportedly deals with the alleged harassment the female captain specifically faced after she and another lieutenant were promoted. The EEOC refused an attempt by this newspaper to review the complaint last year.
While that investigation was being led by the law firm, another review of the OCFD operations is underway with Recor and Evans meeting with the individual firefighter/paramedic crews. Once those meetings are complete, the council is expected to be briefed.
Larmore reiterated his department has nothing to hide and welcomes the internal meetings, which stem in part from career firefighter/paramedics informing city officials of a “hostile work environment”. Larmore disagrees that he fosters that sort of climate and takes umbrage with the accusations from the support group that career firefighter/paramedics are weary of going public with their concerns out of fear of retribution.
“I adamantly disagree with this concept of retaliation. In today’s world, that is the last thing any department head is going to be able to do. It’s the complete opposite. If any of my employees went down to City Hall and said the chief is picking on me, they would investigate that and I would have half of my time invested in it. I am not being retaliatory as a department head. It isn’t going to happen,” Larmore said. “That’s absolutely an excuse for a person who for whatever reason has chosen not to come forward.”