OCVFC Plan Would Disband Paid Firefighters

OCEAN CITY –The Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) responded to the Mayor and Council’s proposal this week, offering a counterproposal that would place the OCVFC in charge of all fire fighting responsibilities within the town.

“The OCVFC has presented the Mayor and City Council with a plan that it believes resolves all the issues in the continuing discussion of how best to manage fire and rescue services,” read a press release from the OCVFC this week.

The counter proposal came as a response to the proposal put forward by the Mayor and Council three weeks ago. At that time, the City Council, through a 4-3 vote, decided to offer the position of interim fire chief to Volunteer Fire Chief Chris Larmore. The proposal came with some conditions however, one of which required Chief Larmore to step down as the Volunteer Fire Chief.

After a lengthy and passionate meeting before the Mayor and Council on February 19, the Council voted 4-3 to draft a letter outlining their proposal, to be sent to Chief Larmore and the OCVFC. Larmore responded in kind, promising to review the proposal thoroughly and respond promptly.

The OCVFC responded this week, with a press release outlining their counterproposal. “After examining all proposals made during this year-long process, and consulting with some of the top experts in the field, OCVFC has proposed a simple division of responsibilities that would save taxpayers revenues, and avoid possible conflicts between volunteer and career personnel.” 

“Under the plan, the OCVFC would assume all responsibilities for firefighting in the City, while the paid EMS division would provide emergency medical services,” reads the statement. The counterproposal leaves the OCVFC in charge of all fire services in the town. The fire company would remain answerable to the town government on budgetary matters.

The OCVFC acknowledged the proposal put forth by the Mayor and Council, outlining reasons why they could not embrace the concept.

“After careful review, this plan has several troubling aspects, the least of these is the requirement that he [Chief Larmore] be required to resign as Chief of the OCVFC in order to assume the post,” the OCVFC statement reads.

At the Feb. 19 meeting, several people, including a few council members, voiced displeasure with the condition that Chief Larmore step down from his current position with the OCVFC.

The release also addressed underlying issues with the paid union members, who stated at an earlier council meeting that they would be uncomfortable working under the direction of a volunteer chief. “Simultaneously, the paid EMS Division union members have made it clear they would be uncomfortable answering to a volunteer fire chief, even in the interim,” reads the statement.

To resolve the issue, the OCVFC proposes a division of the fire services and EMS Division, a proposal they feel will be a more efficient use of taxpayer funds. They also suggested a better use of money budgeted for a paid fire chief.  “The OCVFC proposes that money budgeted for a paid fire chief be used to enhance the firefighting capabilities of the volunteer fire company.”

“The OCVFC senses discomfort on all sides with the proposed hybrid operation, especially with the Council only voting 4-3 in favor,” reads the release, referring to the inability of the Mayor and Council to reach a consensus on the proposal which would call for a combined paid and volunteer fire force under the interim control of Chief Larmore. “The volunteers are also leery of becoming involved in a situation containing so many variables that organizational success is questionable.”

The OCFVC hopes to further address the issue at Monday night’s regular session of the Mayor and Council. Mayor Rick Meehan commented on the proposal yesterday, and although he is hopeful that all parties can reach an understanding, he did not show support of the OCVFC’s recent proposal.

“I do not see the advantage, or rational, to requiring 43 trained members of the Town’s Firefighters/Paramedic division to step down as respondents or as active firefighters in Ocean City. Currently I believe there are only 40 active members of the OCVFC that live in the Ocean City First Due response area,” said Meehan.  

Meehan maintained his support for the OCVFC, remaining hopeful that a solution will prevail. “I believe we need and I have always supported the OCVFC and will continue to support volunteer service in Ocean City,” he said. “The Town of Ocean City and the OCVFC have been partners for over 100 years and I would hope that partnership can continue for the next 100 years.”

Meehan also addressed the current mode of negotiations between the town and the OCVFC, maintaining that the strategic planning retreat, proposed and voted on by the council in February, is the best plan of action. “I again urge both parties to move forward with the meeting,” he said. “I do think that continuing to formulate proposals and ultimatums, without the input from the Ocean City elected officials, is the wrong way to go.”