OCEAN CITY – The biggest takeaway from an Ocean City Fire Department report for the 2018 summer season was crews reduced their average response times once again.
Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) Chief Chris Larmore on Tuesday presented the 2018 performance and evaluation review of his department for the summer season to the Mayor and Council. The fire department responded to 2,882 calls for service during the summer of 2018, down some from the 3,108 calls handled from Memorial Day to Labor Day in 2017. The number of EMS calls declined from 2,622 in 2017 to 2,337 in 2018, while the number of fire calls increased from 486 in 2017 to 505 in 2018.
Response times are often critical in fire and emergency calls and the OCFD continued to lower its response times to a remarkable 3:40. Last year, the average response time to an EMS call was 3:56 and the department was able to improve on that this year. Larmore pointed out not every call for an ambulance is a critical emergency, but the career and volunteer staffers handle each one as if it is.
“Response times are not always make-or-break and medical calls are not always life or death, but our people hustle to every single one,” he said. “If you run out of crews, that can be devastating to response times. Our EMS response time was reduced to 3:40, which is almost an impossibility with the traffic patterns, population and weather issues we often face. Everyone should be extremely proud of that.”
Larmore pointed out there were two occasions during the summer season when the department was “out of units” available to respond to a call, which was down from seven in 2017. He emphasized “out of units” is a technical term used when a call for service depletes available staffed units and not an indication a call is not handled. In those two cases this summer, both of which occurred over Labor Day weekend, secondary units were almost immediately in place to handle the calls.
“The number of times that we did not have an available unit this season was reduced,” he said. “Out of around 2,800 calls, there were only two times that we didn’t have a unit available. That’s remarkable. We had several serious calls over Labor Day weekend and we have a mechanism in place to send secondary resources. In each case, we had 15 volunteers and paid staff ready to go before the next call came in.”
It’s no secret there has been some friction in recent months between the chief and career administration and the volunteers as well as the administration and the firefighter union, largely over staffing and scheduling changes. Ironically, on the same day Larmore presented the OCFD’s glowing report on the summer season, the Mayor and Council met in closed session later in the afternoon with the leadership of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, presumably to hear the volunteers’ grievances with some of the issues.
The results of that closed session have not been made public, but at least in terms of the statistics presented during the open session Tuesday, it appears the different factions were able to put aside their differences for the greater good during the summer. For example, the number of hours the volunteers supplied to the department during the summer increased from 8,940 in 2017 to 12,463 in 2018. Larmore praised the volunteers for stepping up when they were needed.
“With an analysis of our peak times, I wasn’t looking for additional resources, I was looking for the reallocation of resources,” he said. “They did both. They filled more hours and also filled in the peak times on the weekends.”
Larmore pointed out the department had recently been audited by Insurance Services Offices (ISO), which analyzes the fire service in communities all over the region to determine insurance availability and rates for private and commercial property. The ISO gave the OCFD one of the highest scores available after the recent audit, according to Larmore.
“There is a lot of training and preparation that goes into responding to emergencies,” he said. “In a recent audit, our score improved to 45.7 points out of a possible 50, which is the most significant improvement in the history of the fire department. What a remarkable achievement. I’m very pleased to present that.”
Overall, Larmore said the OCFD met or exceeded expectations in all measurable categories while working within the parameters of available staff, equipment and the budget.
“We entered the summer with some challenges, but those challenges were overcome by a variety of measures and planning,” he said. “We planned more efficiently for our resources and it worked. That can’t be denied. We have provided the service and have done that under budget. We exceeded the town’s goals and provided excellent customer care at a reasonable cost. We’ve done that.”
Larmore pointed out all three divisions — the career division, the volunteer division and the Fire Marshal’s Office — came in under budget.
“We have a financial responsibility and all three of our divisions were under budget,” he said. “The career division’s payroll was $34,000 under budget. We’re actually spending less this year, but providing better service.”