Ocean City Council President Joe Mitrecic did the right thing last week – he admitted the Mayor and Council mishandled the situation with the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company and should have done a better job of taking the lead on the matter.
It’s not often a public official admits to a mistake these days. Unless, of course, they are caught having sex with a high-paid prostitute. Mitrecic’s humble admission the current state of affairs was the elected officials’ fault should go a long way toward improving relations between the council and the volunteers.
The Mayor and Council should have never allowed the situation to escalate to the point it is today. Council members should have been in charge of these discussions from the beginning. That did not happen. It should not have been City Manager Dennis Dare and Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald in discussions with the paid firefighters and the volunteers because it’s obvious where their allegiance falls – with their people, the city-paid and trained fire/EMS division.
There’s plenty of blame to go around here, and the volunteers did not help their image with an odd counterproposal to disband the paid fire service, meaning the volunteers would respond to all fire calls and the paid fire/EMS division would tend to all medical and emergency response. This extreme proposal, in response to a city plan to appoint OCVFC Chief Chris Larmore temporary paid fire chief if he resigns his volunteer post, will not and should not happen.
The goal heading into this was a blend of a paid and volunteer service and that needs to be the end result of all this discord. We believe it can still work. The problem all along has not been deciding what should happen. It’s how to get to that point that has been a major issue.
A meeting of rational minds is a good idea. However, it will only be a success if the egos, emotions, personal grudges and scare tactics are checked at the door. It’s unknown whether that can happen with the city’s paid staff and volunteers because the discourse runs deep. It’s not just about fire protection in some individual cases. It runs deeper and is heavily personal for some. That needs to be left outside when this meeting occurs.
The sooner the issues get resolved the better because this has gone on long enough. All parties seem to agree on that, but the proposals currently on the table are not acceptable to either. From the city’s perspective, the paid fire/EMS division will not be disbanded. From the OCVFC’s side, Larmore will not resign his volunteer position to assume the paid fire chief duties. A compromise needs to be reached.
It behooves all involved, from the city, volunteers and paid staff to area residents, businesses and property owners, to quickly hash out their differences and put the focus back on adequately protecting resort property and life from casualties.