Fire Department Shuffling To Save Ocean City Money

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Fire Department took on a new look last year with the merger of the career and volunteer divisions, and now it has a new ranking structure, one in which the “hook” seems to be the implementation of a newly defined corporate-type ladder.

Chief Chris Larmore requested approval for the “next important step in the continuing process of the building of the Ocean City Fire Department” on Tuesday, altering the ranking structure on the career division side of the department, thus filling a large management gap.

“There is a fairly big void between the deputy chief and the subsequent personnel within that division. I would propose that we fill that void in from a management perspective, by adding an assistant chief and four captains,” Larmore said.

Larmore said that a key point in the change in ranking structure is that all the changes and promotions would be made “in house.”

“This proposal does not involve hiring any new positions or backfilling any existing positions, but it simply moves some of the personnel we already have,” he said.

Currently, the officers work in operational positions, meaning that they are field providers while they are managing other resources of the department. Larmore said that the promotions would mean that as managers, they might serve in an assorted number of different roles.

“They could fill a role as paramedic or firefighters if needed. This is not a proposal where we take four individuals and put them in an office just to manage other people,” he said.

Larmore also suggested that the opportunities for promotion in the career division of the department is currently limited to the one deputy chief position that sits above the lieutenant rank on the current structure. He said that altering this would be helpful not only for motivation and morale, but it would strengthen the department as a whole.

“Any good business or department should also be developing future managers, and by not having a current rank structure under the current deputy chief, you can develop his replacement down the line,” Larmore said. “In order to build a solid foundation for a department or company, you want to make sure you are bringing people up that can fill voids in some capacity.”

The most surprising thing about the change in rank structure, admittedly even for Larmore, was the fact that it would result in immediate cost savings between $35,000 and $50,000 for the town, despite the salary raises that the promoted officers would receive.

“Currently, the officers work a minimum 48 hours a week, and this change would get them down to 40 hours a week, thus cutting back on overtime pay. I was quite surprised that it would result in immediate cost savings for the town when I first saw the numbers,” said Larmore.

Councilman Jim Hall was skeptical that the immediate cost savings seemed a bit too good to be true, questioning what the upfront costs of such a change in rank structure would be for the town. Yet, after Finance Administrator Martha Lucey’s confirmation of the numbers, the argument was altered to the necessity for good scheduling practices.

“Scheduling is going to be a critical part of achieving the cost savings,” said Lucey.

City Manager Dennis Dare called the changes “an excellent solution that shows that the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place and will take the department to a whole new level, and I think that a year from now, we will be very proud of this decision.”

Mayor Rick Meehan urged the City Council to approve Larmore’s decision and to implement the changes immediately.

The council passed the proposal 6-1 with Margaret Pillas abstaining from the vote, citing lack of information and disdain for current overtime pay standards as her reasoning.

“I see it, but not enough to hold my hand up,” she said.

Jim Hall said he was most drawn to the fact that the promotions would directly affect those career fireman that have already been serving in the Ocean City Fire Department.

“The best thing is that we are pulling from the same group of people that have been pulling the wagon all along. It’s a good thing that it’s in house, and if we are saving money, I’m all for it,” said Hall.

Only career division members of the fire department will be eligible for the five new positions and the raise in base salary will be offset by the reduction of overtime pay, according to Larmore.

“To allow us to do this will bring an increased level of professionalism and image and considerable more efficiency. By good management, everybody prospers. I can’t put a number the impact this will have, and not to rip-off Mastercard, but it’s priceless.” said Larmore.