OCVFC Reassured of Leadership Role in Resort’s Fire Service

OCEAN CITY- The leadership of the Ocean City Volunteer
Fire Company were reassured during a two-hour heart-to-heart with the Mayor and
Council on Tuesday they are still the lead agency in the umbrella of sorts that
covers fire service in the resort, but a mysterious memorandum of understanding
encouraging the volunteer outfit to work more closely with the paid emergency
services department was extended.

Public safety for Ocean City is the top priority for each
of the allied agencies that collaborate in the resort, but it was called into
question recently which should be the lead agency, or “senior partner” as it
was often called on Tuesday. A plan circulated in January that never saw the
light of day called for the paid emergency services group to become the lead
agency, while the 102-year-old OCVFC would be relegated to a lesser role, or,
at the very least, an equal role with the paid emergency services agency.

After the cordial, but somewhat terse meeting with the
Mayor and Council on Tuesday, the OCVFC was assured its leadership role was not
being diminished, at least in the short term, and the volunteer group agreed to
work with the paid Emergency Services group in the coming months to get a
better understanding of each agency’s role.

A lot of mistrust and misconception was cleared up during
the two-hour meeting on Tuesday between the Mayor and Council, the leadership
of the OCVFC and the town’s paid Emergency Services department. The OCVFC’s
concerns were borne out of pair of unrelated documents that have come to light
in recent months concerning the future of the historic volunteer agency.

The first was a plan presented to the council by City Manager
Dennis Dare that called for a lesser leadership role for the OCFVC and an
expanded role for the town’s paid, career firefighters. The second, and likely
less offensive document, is a memorandum of understanding between the volunteer
fire company and the town’s paid Emergency Services Department, which
essentially calls for a gradual melding of the two agencies, along with other
emergency services providers in the resort such as the paid paramedics and the
Fire Marshal’s Office, for example.

There was considerable discussion about the former on
Tuesday, but not much was said about the plan submitted to the council by City
Manager Dennis Dare in January, which was reportedly quickly taken off the
table. In light of the two documents, the leaders of the OCVFC came to council
chambers on Tuesday looking for reassurances they were still considered the
lead agency on fire service in Ocean City, an authority they have enjoyed for
102 years.

OCVFC Chief Chris Larmore told the council his agency was
comfortable with the memorandum of understanding with Emergency Services, which
calls for the two agencies to work together on a plan to make the town’s entire
fire service even better. Larmore said the OCVFC embraced the concept sharing
ideas and pulling resources with Emergency Services if it improved the quality
of service for the residents.

“We have no secrets,” he said. “In fact, we always look
for input on how to better our operations and manage our resources. If anyone
in this room feels there is a better way to run this company and provide this
service, we would certainly be open to suggestion.”

Larmore said the memorandum of understanding coupled with
the ill-fated plan to scale back the authority of the OCVFC had caused the
volunteer company’s leaders to question the town’s faith in them. Essentially,
Larmore said the OCVFC was looking for a firm commitment from the town nothing
had changed in terms of who was in charge of providing fire service for the

“In light of the recent confusion, I guess we’re looking
for you to reaffirm your commitment to the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company.”

For his part, Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald
said his agency, made up of paid, career personnel, also embraced the concept
of working with the century-old volunteer company and said he looked forward to
continuing the good working relationship. Theobald said the town is moving
toward a change in how the various paid and volunteer agencies are coordinated,
but no immediate change was in the offing.

“We’re in a transitional period, but both have the same
intentions,” he said. “My recommendation is that you allow myself, the fire
chief and the city manager to work together to come up with a solution. We’re
coming into another season and we’re going to face some challenges.”

Theobald also said there would likely be changes in the
ways the various groups are organized in the future and that might mean one
umbrella organization to oversee all emergency operations.

“The day is coming when we need a manager to oversee all
fire and emergency operations,” he said. “It’s coming. We’re not quite there
yet, but we need to move forward.”

As the discussion moved back and forth between the ongoing
memorandum of understanding between the OCVFC and Emergency Services, and the
rather mysterious plan floated by Dare in January, many in the audience and
more than a couple on the council became increasingly confused.

At one point, Councilman Jim Hall said it was uncertain, after
all the discussion, just who was in charge of providing fire service for the
town. “This is as clear as mud for me,” said Hall. “I don’t think we’ve got an
answer still about who is in charge.”

Councilwoman Nancy Howard agreed it was still uncertain who
was going to be in charge of providing fire service. While everybody appeared
to be in agreement, there was still some confusion about who had the authority.

“If everything is going along swimmingly, when did the
wheels come off the wagon?” said Howard. “I sense everything has changed in the
last week. Can somebody explain this in plain English?”

Larmore explained the OCFVC merely wanted confirmation it
still held the authority to oversee the fire service in Ocean City while moving
forward with the memorandum of understanding. “This is not about power, and
it’s not about authority,” he said. “But we can’t have two trains, or two
bosses, heading in different directions. That is disruptive to any
organization. All of our fire personnel, paid or volunteer, have to know where
the buck stops.”

Larmore said the memorandum in no way changed who was in
charge of fire service. “That document in no way gave the authority to manage
to fire service to anybody other than us,” said Larmore. “I far as I can tell,
there has been no change in the authority bestowed on the volunteer fire
company for the last 102 years.”

Councilman Lloyd Martin said the intent was never to wrest
away any of the authority held by the OCVFC for the last 102 years. He said the
memorandum was intended to help better coordinate the allied agencies.

“We’re not re-inventing the wheel here,” said Martin. “I
don’t want anybody to leave here thinking we’re taking any authority away from
the volunteer fire company. That’s certainly not my intent.”

In the end, the Council voted unanimously to re-affirm the
authority of the OCVFC in the town’s fire service and also agreed to extend the
memorandum of understanding between the two groups into the future.