OCEAN CITY — Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore said that his department has gotten done in two years what some people said couldn’t be done in six. As a result, the council applauded the efforts of the “$1-a-year-chief”, and even quipped that it might be time to give him a raise.
As the career and volunteer fire department in Ocean City closes in on its two-year anniversary next month, the memory of the harsh battle to get the merger of the two entities in place still lingers to those who were closely involved with the process, but as the department moves forward, Larmore continues to steer the ship in the right direction in the council’s eyes.
Larmore presented his annual report to the Mayor and Council on Tuesday, outlining all that the department has done to improve fiscal responsibility and departmental efficiency in the past year and presented his plans to take that efficiency and service to new levels in the next year.
“We are continuing to find new ways to reduce the number of crews that we are sending to minor calls in both fire and EMS and in doing so, we are saving money while still providing the same level of top notch service to the community,” said Larmore. “We think that these new ideas are a home run, and will continue to improve our efficiency and enable us to serve the public better.”
Some of those ideas that Larmore pitched to the council were quite commonsensical including sending the closest response team available for calls, and continuing to only send one engine for silent alarms rather than the three-engine response teams that had been sent in the past.
In addition, Larmore recommended that only one ambulance be sent for minor incidents, rather than two, which will save not only operational costs, but also save in payroll costs.
Other highlights of Larmore’s presentation included an 81 percent (or approximately 25,000 dwelling units) carbon monoxide compliance rate in the resort, which is up from less than 20 percent last summer, a record number of cadets in the junior firefighters program, which had been at an all-time low several years ago, a volunteer membership that was up 12 percent in a down economy, and most notably, a new measure that would see two paramedics on every medical call.
“On the fire side of things, less than 3 three of the calls end up being an actual emergency, but on the medical or EMS side, our quick response has been vital in saving lives,” said Larmore. “There are very few jurisdictions who are sending two paramedics on every call, and we think that it’s important to be able to provide that level of service to our community.”
Larmore paused on several occasions to thank the Mayor and Council for “enabling the department to be set up for success”, but it was the council who took turns praising Larmore’s efforts and the department’s service.
“I think that all these things are just brilliant moves,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “I never understood if I was sitting at Layton’s on 15th Street why I would see a fire engine flying downtown on a call when the fire headquarters is right next door (on 15th Street).”
Councilman Doug Cymek said that Larmore “hit all the major points” and complimented Larmore’s “methodical” nature in handling the department and its day-to-day operations.
Last year, of the 4,351 EMS calls in Ocean City, only 515 were because of traumatic injury and of the 1,171 calls for fire-related incidents, 714 of those were for an automatic fire alarm.
In order to prove the point that the scale back in the response teams per call was merited, Larmore noted that of all the fire-related calls last year, the department never found itself to be “short” of the necessary response needed to handle a call.
“When I took over the department, one of the first things that [City Manager] Dennis [Dare] told me to correct was the $400,000 that we were over budget because of overtime, and I’d like to report that it has been corrected and only one time last year, did we see a pay period that was higher than the previous year.”
“I think maybe it’s time we think about raising your pay to $2 a year,” joked Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.