OCEAN CITY – Visiting speakers well versed in the area of combination fire services came together Monday to present town officials and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) with advice and expertise in the current problem areas that the Ocean City fire services face.
Five speakers from Montgomery County, Salisbury, Baltimore County and Virginia presented to a panel that included Mayor Rick Meehan, City Council members, representatives of the OCVFC and citizen representatives Hale Harrison, Peck Miller, Bob Paroda and Leighton Moore. The all-day work session included a history of other fire organizations and their struggles with combination fire service, as well as advice highlighting the most affective ways to handle Ocean City’s current problems.
The panel was given a chance to ask questions of each of the speakers, lending them to garner advice on what works and what doesn’t.
“I think that you’re going through the initial stages of an evolution,” said Salisbury Fire Chief David See. “Everybody in this room wants to see change, but individually we don’t want to change to get there … I believe the combination system is the best of both worlds. That’s really what everyone is looking for, they’re looking for fair and equitable treatment,” said See.
“It’s definitely a long and can be painful process…. I really encourage you to understand that this is where you have to go and working together is the way to get there,” said Montgomery County Fire Chief Tom Carr.
“There will be heated debates and those things are natural,” agreed Division Fire Chief Eddie Buchanan of the Hanover County, Va. Fire Services. “This will be an issue that will have to reinforced every day for years to come.”
The consensus among the speakers was that communication and strong leadership is paramount.
“You have to be understanding of the other sides’ views and apprehensions,” said See.
“It’s about the attitude, which starts with me and then filters down,” said Baltimore County Fire Chief John Hohman, who also stressed the importance of balance among leaders.
“If the county executive or a county council member were to favor one side, the career or the volunteers, it would make my job real, real hard,” Hohman said.
“To be successful there has to be trust and there has to be open, honest, respectful communication,” said Carr.
The advice of the various chiefs came after months of contention surrounding the fate of the town’s fire services. The underlying tensions within the fire services have been bubbling for months. Several meetings before the Mayor and City Council left not only the council, but also the town divided over the future of the town’s fire services. In an effort to move forward as a unit, Mayor Rick Meehan urged everyone to come together at one table in an effort to garner the thoughts of others before hashing out the issues.
In an interview on Wednesday, Meehan commented on the success of Monday’s meeting, noting that it was exactly what the city envisioned, a chance to sit down and listen to the advice of others.
”That was the purpose, it was important to get everybody into a room and really sit down and listen to what others, who have been through this, had to say,” said Meehan. “We aren’t the only people to face this issue … It was very informative and it was a good exercise. I think that we all needed to hear that and learn from what they’ve done.”
Ocean City Volunteer Fire Chief Chris Larmore also deemed the meeting productive.
“I’ve heard a lot of what was presented before, but the idea of having the council and the public there, that was very nice and yes I would say it was productive,” Larmore said. “The speakers represented in total 75 to 100 departments. They’re in the middle of something just as we all are.”