OCEAN CITY – After another lengthy and impassioned discussion over the future of the town’s fire services this week, the Mayor and City Council and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCFVC) agreed to come together and at least begin to hash out the problems that have caused the current rift and move towards a solution that all parties can feel comfortable with.
Tensions remained high at a meeting of the Mayor and City Council Monday night as OCVFC Chief Chris Larmore and President Jay Jester came to the table once again in an attempt to have their voice heard.
The meeting was scheduled at the request of the OCVFC after releasing a press release outlining their response to a letter from Mayor Rick Meehan. The letter, which was voted on in a 4-3 vote by the City Council on February 19, essentially asked Chief Larmore to be the interim fire chief with the condition that he step down as volunteer fire chief.
Jester responded to the letter and the events that have led up to this point by presenting the Mayor and Council with a conceptual plan that would split the fire and EMS services in the town.
“We have concluded that his plan is fatally flawed,” said Jester of the Mayor’s letter and the Council’s proposal. Jester went on to propose that the OCVFC be in charge of all fire service within the town, leaving the paid fire/EMS division in charge of all medical and emergency response.
“Mayor and City Council, this controversy has gone on long enough,” Jester said, noting the increased tensions within the firehouse as well as the ever expanding rift that the on-going issue has caused.
Mayor Meehan once again urged all parties to come together at one table to hear all sides and attempt to hash out the major issues.
“So much of what has transpired I think would have been better served if we had done it together,” Meehan said.
Meehan concluded that the back-and-forth issuing of proposals and concepts was taking them in circles rather than towards progress. “I think we will all agree on a lot more things than what we’ll disagree on,” he said.
“At no time did we ever say that we did not want to go through with that meeting,” said Jester, explaining that their conceptual plan was a response to the Mayor’s letter and the February 19 meeting, a response they had promised to provide to the town.
Council member Jim Hall made a motion to accept the conceptual plan put forth by the OCVFC, receiving a second from Council member Margaret Pillas.
“We should be sitting at a table together, working this out,” said Council member Nancy Howard, showing opposition to the motion.
“I still don’t know how I can vote for even the concept of a plan that to me is just not clear enough that what your suggesting is going to forward fire protection in the town of Ocean City,” said Council member Jay Hancock.
The paid fire/EMS division was also heard at the meeting, with Union President Mike Maykrantz and representative from the International Association of Firefighters, Kevin O’Conner coming forward to voice their “vehement opposition” to the proposal put forth by the OCVFC.
Chief Larmore noted that their desire for a combination fire service had not been lost, but that circumstances had led them to this point. “The union did not support the volunteers, they were our best friends, our co-workers, until they fell under very poor leadership,” he said.
Both Jester and Larmore spoke to the tensions within the firehouse and the rift between the volunteer and paid fire fighters.
“No volunteer should ever have to fight for the right to volunteer,” Larmore said, emphasizing the emotional strain the situation was causing.
Council President Joe Mitrecic spoke out, urging everyone to agree to a meeting. “I feel like the proverbial dog chasing his tail,” he said.
Mitrecic also took responsibility for the current situation, noting that he and the council should have stepped in earlier. “Let us make this right with you all, with the Town of Ocean City,” urged Mitrecic.
Larmore applauded Mitrecic for taking responsibility, agreeing to come together for a strategic planning session.
With the concurrence of the Larmore and Jester, Council member Hall withdrew his motion.
Mayor Meehan and Chief Larmore agreed to set up a time within the next two weeks when a majority of the affected parties could come to the table to at least begin the process of hashing out the issues and finding a workable solution