Volunteer Firefighters Could Air Grievances With Elected Officials

OCEAN CITY – The Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company is looking for a productive way to discuss ongoing concerns with emergency services leadership.

At an Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) Board of Directors meeting last Wednesday, the board declared “no confidence” in Ocean City Fire Chief Chris Larmore. The “no confidence” vote is the first ever taken by the OCVFC board and is rooted largely in staffing concerns and requirement for paid firefighters to take on additional overtime and the increased stress being placed on the volunteer ranks as a result of the city being shorthanded.

The rift between the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, which has been around for 100 years or more, and the paid fire and EMS divisions grew wider in February 2008 when the volunteer company threatened to leave the town of Ocean City altogether and set up shop in West Ocean City. The Mayor and Council at that time agreed to come together to hash out the differences. The OCVFC responded to the Mayor and Council’s proposal with a counterproposal that would place the volunteer company in charge of all fire-fighting responsibilities within the town, while leaving the paid fire/EMS division in charge of all medical and emergency response.

Out that rift, the Mayor and Council unanimously approved appointing Larmore as the one chief, hoping it would be a first step in unifying the fractured paid and volunteer departments. The measure was confirmed with an Memorandum of Understanding reached between the town and the OCVFC in May 2008.

Among the key components of that MOU was Larmore essentially volunteering to become chief with an annual salary of $1, a unified paid and volunteer fire company in the resort including the now popular logo and slogan. The 2008 MOU also outlined the possibility of the OCVFC going directly to the Mayor and Council with issues and grievances and bypassing the chief.

The MOU was renewed in 2013 as a matter of protocol with essentially the same basic language as the original 2008 document including a provision for the OCVFC to meet directly with the Mayor and Council to resolve issues and air grievances. Now, five years later, the OCVFC appears poised to exercise that option and bypass Larmore.

Although the volunteer company’s exact grievances and concerns have not been stated, it appears they are related somewhat to recent schedule changes, staff shortages and other issues.

While not confirming a vote of no confidence took place on Larmore, OCVFC Board President Jay Jester said there are some ongoing matters the volunteers would like to take to the fire chief in the near future for a productive conversation.

“The Board of Directors has some issues we would like to discuss with the fire chief,” he said. “The board in conjunction with the general membership are in the planning stages on what the best course of action would be to make that happen. We view this at this moment as a personnel matter, so we don’t want to be forthcoming with a lot of information until we figure out our course of action.”

Jester said at no point has a discussion taken place to terminate the existing MOU between the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company and the Mayor and Council that dates back to 2008 and was redrafted and signed in 2013 when Larmore started taking a city salary. The MOU, which names Larmore as the chief, states, “This MOU will terminate by the affirmative vote of the elected Council members of the town of Ocean City, or the affirmative vote of the Board of Directors of the OCVFC.”

When asked if the volunteers’ action last week impacts the MOU, Jester said, “Absolutely not. That MOU is intact as we speak and there was no mention whatsoever from the Board of Directors desiring to terminate the MOU with the city … absolutely zero discussion.”

Additionally, the MOU states, “The OCVFC reserves its longstanding right to communicate directly to the Mayor and City Council on all matters.”

Jester said the volunteers have not decided if they want to take their concerns to the elected body at this time. Instead, Jester is focused on the best route to airing the volunteers’ worries in a timely fashion.

“What we’re doing actually is discussing whether that’s the course of action we should take or if there’s another way or multiple other ways to make our concerns heard and ensure our concerns are taken seriously,” Jester said.

Mayor Rick Meehan said this week the town’s elected officials have not heard anything official from the OCVFC about a no confidence vote for the chief.

“Our goal is to continue the great working relationship we have with the volunteer fire company,” he said. “The town of Ocean City has not been formally made aware of any vote of no confidence made by the OCVFC Board of Directors or the general membership.”

Meehan said if the OCVFC desires a sit down with the Mayor and Council, that avenue is open.

“The established MOU signed in 2013 does provide the option for the OCVFC to communicate directly with the Mayor and Council and the town will, of course, uphold our end of the agreement at their request,” he said. “Our doors at City Hall are always open.”

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.