OC’s Volunteer Live-In Program Called ‘A Huge Success’

OCEAN CITY — With the goal of expanding an already-flourishing volunteer fire company live-in program, resort officials this week discovered a creative way to fund new radios for the department in the current budget.

During a presentation of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company’s budget at a work session last week, among other things Assistant Chief Connor Braniff explained the growing success of the live-in program for first-responders. A few years back, the Ocean City Fire Department established a program allowing certain qualified volunteer firefighters to live in the department’s firehouses free of charge.

Live-in space in the firehouses is limited and available only to certified firefighters who are also students at nearby colleges and universities. Under the program, the firefighters live in the various quarters free of charge close to school and the beach and everything else Ocean City has to offer in exchange for working shifts in addition to their regular shift rotation. During a budget work session last week, Braniff explained the program has been thriving since its inception.

“We now have seven full-time live-in firefighters and seven part-time live-in firefighters,” he said. “Our max used to be 10. Due to the success of the program, we’ve added living quarters inside the headquarters.”

Braniff said those who have completed a season under the live-in program tend to come back and also encourage their peers to take advantage of it.

“We have a 100-percent return rate,” he said. “It’s really word-of-mouth. They are letting their friends know. We actually have a waiting list now for the program.”

Braniff said because the live-in firefighters are housed in the various stations, they are often the first to respond in emergencies.

“They are our workhorses,” he said. “Because they live here, they are often the first on the scene.”

The success of the program has created challenges, however. Because of its popularity, the volunteer company has had to find creative ways of housing and outfitting the live-in firefighters.

“The live-in program is a huge success, but it’s a good problem and a bad problem,” he said. “We have to find room for them and we have to find gear for them. We’re getting 2,100 hours per live-in per year and we expect that to go up, but we have had to spend our own money. We’ve spent $18,000 between furniture and renovations.”

For example, Braniff explained the volunteer fire company requested 10 radios that were not funded in the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget. As it stands now, the live-in firefighters have to take the radios out of the various apparatus. The cost of the 10 radios was around $35,000 and Braniff asked the Mayor and Council to reconsider including them in the budget.

Councilman and firefighter Matt James said the issue could be revisited during budget wrap-up sessions and suggested if there was a way to fund the radios, the timing might be right because of rising costs of the equipment.

“It might be a good idea to do this sooner rather than later,” he said. We just heard earlier the cost of police radios are going up and that could be the case with these.”

During last Tuesday’s budget wrap-up session, Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said since Thursday’s work session, she had worked with volunteer fire company officials and found a creative way of moving funds around within the current budget to pay for the 10 radios requested. The council voted to approve the budget change, which will come out of the current budget and not affect the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.