Council Clarifies Military Vehicle Acquisition; Volunteer Chief Questions Move

OCEAN CITY – Emotions were stirred among emergency personnel this week following discussions over the resort possibly acquiring surplus military vehicles to be used during emergency weather incidents.

Earlier this month, during a police commission meeting, Ocean City Police Department captains and city officials discussed the opportunity to acquire military surplus vehicles, either a Humvee or Deuce and a Half, to be used in emergency situations, such as rescue missions during flooding caused by hurricanes or other major storms.

The federal government offers surplus military vehicles to municipalities free of charge and many jurisdictions have taken advantage of the opportunity. The only costs associated are to transport the vehicle to the destination and any changes or maintenance to be conducted after acquisition.

A week later, Police Commission Chair and Councilman Doug Cymek reported to the full Mayor and City Council the opportunity to acquire such a vehicle, but the council felt there was more research to be conducted on ongoing costs and which vehicle is more appropriate to serve Ocean City before a decision is made.

During that meeting, Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) Chief Bo Duke sat in the audience and was reminded of an incident that had occurred during Hurricane Sandy.

“As I sat listening I couldn’t help but be disappointed that there no mention of the high water rescues that were performed by the OCVFC or the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD),” Duke said.

Serving as a volunteer, Duke has intimate knowledge of what it takes to prepare for a storm as well as preparing for potential rescues and emergencies that occur during the height of the storm. Using Hurricane Sandy as an example, Duke explained what goes into preparation.

OCVFC begins with informing its members and assisting them and their families in making preparations of their own so they are secure to assist the town.

Next, they ask volunteers with personal skiffs or john boats if they will bring them in for rescues in deep water. A call goes out to Public Works Director Hal Adkins to borrow a Michigan Front End Loader with personnel basket for rescuing family’s stuck on upper levels, which the department has trained operators to do so, according to Duke.

The fire service also has a stock of chest waders and hip high boots to insulate volunteers from exposure to cold water, among other equipment.

“We have highly trained water personnel to include people trained in swift water rescue and divers,” Duke said. “We deploy these people as cohesive units called crews. They staff a boat, or a loader or a water rescue truck. We have been doing this for many years with a great deal of success.”

Duke explained as Hurricane Sandy approached a taxpayer offered the town the use of a personal Deuce and a Half. Duke accepted and began making the arrangements for the military vehicle to be staged at headquarters, stocked with the necessary equipment, and put a crew together consisting of a fully trained driver, officer and appropriate rescue crew personnel.

“During the initial downtown flooding, we were dispatched to several calls for service. The Deuce, as we referred to it on the radio, successfully removed several victims from extreme high water situations. One such rescue I personally witnessed from up on the 50 Bridge, several family members were brought out of a flooded residence, deposited safely in our donated military vehicle, all the while the ground transformers were boiling the salt water. Downtown the power grid was still on. At this point, I asked the city to have Delmarva Power turn off the grid for safety reasons. Little did I know this would be our last rescue,” Duke said.

The fire service was not dispatched to any other water rescues, and Duke found this out by overhearing the police radio channels that OCPD and the National Guard were now responding to water rescues by Humvee.

“I arrived at fire headquarters to see National Guard and OCPD personnel in regular uniforms soaking wet and freezing … I was seriously concerned why ill-equipped Guard and police were performing tasks that we and the fire service had been trained and equipped to do for over 105 years,” he said.

Duke questioned, if the intent of acquiring a Humvee was to perform rescues, how the city would pay for the necessary equipment and training for police as is required and provided by the OCVFC.

“I would like to call for an inquisition for why on that day at that time the fire service was no longer dispatched to water rescues and it turned over solely to ill-equipped National Guard and PD officers,” Duke said. “Hurricane season starts in August and I for one would like to know who is going to be charged with removing flood victims and performing water rescues when the public dials 911.”

Councilman Joe Mitrecic clarified there has been no decision made that if the town were to take on a military vehicle the OCPD would operate it.

“As far as the water rescues during Sandy that sounds like somebody had overstepped their bounds to be honest with you,” he said. “The OCFD in my eyes is responsible for water rescue of people and not police officers who are not necessarily trained to do that … we are not going to have the police running up and down the highway in a Deuce in a Half any time soon, and we would put them under the purview of emergency management.”

City Manager David Recor responded there was no kind of logistical or operational discussion on the police commission level. It was purely the acquisition of the equipment.

“The police department simply initiated the discussion for acquisition of the equipment,” Recor said. “This is military surplus equipment. It was available for emergency management. I will tell you I do not believe there was any intent to outfit a police department crew for emergency operations.”