OCEAN CITY — Resort officials this week approved a $300,000 emergency expenditure request to replace motors in three of the Ocean City Fire Department’s frontline fire engines, although some creative financing softened the fiscal blow somewhat.
On Tuesday, Ocean City Fire Department Chief Richie Bowers and most of the command staff from both the volunteer and career divisions came before the Mayor and Council requesting $300,000 in funding to replace the motors in two fire engines and one engine tanker. Bowers told the elected officials the motors in one or all of the three engines could fail and any time, which would have a negative impact on operational readiness and response capability. The chief told the Mayor and Council the existing motors are no longer produced by the manufacturer and parts are not readily available.
“The request is to repower three of our engines that have motors that are no longer manufactured,” he said. “We’re unable to get parts or make repairs in a timely manner if we have a major breakdown. We can extend the life of these engines by making this investment now.”
Bowers said replacing the fire engine motors now will ensure there is not an emergency situation when one or all of them fail and would not be available.
“My concern is that we have a catastrophic breakdown on one of these engines and we would not be able to replace the motor or the parts and it would be rendered out of service,” he said. “That would certainly compromise our operational readiness any time of the year, but more importantly during our summer season or shoulder seasons.”
Bowers joined the department as the new chief in June and quickly began examining every aspect of its readiness from staffing to equipment. It was during that process that the obsolete motors in three of the engines was discovered.
“I’ve done a comprehensive review of the fleet since I’ve been here in cooperation with all of the members to make sure we’re making the right decisions based on the data and facts we have,” he said.
Councilman Mark Paddack questioned why the issue was just surfacing now.
“We just had budget hearings in May regarding the expenditures for both the fire and EMS divisions,” he said. “I’m just wondering how this came about now three months and $300,000 later.”
Bowers responded, “To answer your question, it was a comprehensive review where we really peeled back the onion to see where we were and we found out these motors are no longer produced, which put us in a compromised position operationally.”
Bowers said the issue with the obsolete motors came about during his initial review of the department and its readiness.
“When I got here, I wanted to do a comprehensive review of all budget items, but also more importantly our service delivery,” he said. “Part of that service delivery is staff, but also apparatus.”
The issue with the obsolete motors is apparently not unique to the Ocean City Fire Department. In addition, there has already been an occasion when one of Ocean City’s fire engines with the obsolete motor broke down and was temporarily out of service, according to Bowers.
“There are a number of departments including the Boston Fire Department, that have parked engines because these motors are no longer manufactured and parts are not available,” he said. “Just recently within the last couple of weeks, we had one of these engines go down. Fortunately, with the great mechanics we have, we were able to fix it. Otherwise, we would not have been able to put that engine back in service.”
While the $300,000 expenditure was not anticipated at budget time, the sting of it was eased somewhat by some creative financing. Budget Manager Jennie Knapp explained the county’s grant for volunteer fire and ambulance service for West Ocean City came in around $51,000 more than what the town had budgeted. The county’s grant for new pagers for the Ocean City fire department also yielded another $35,000, while both the volunteer and career divisions each came in around $91,000 under budget in the last fiscal year. Essentially, with moving those funds around, the actual out-of-pocket for the town for the three new motors is around $34,000 from the general fund. Bowers also responded to a question about the plan to install the new motors once the council approved, which they unanimously did on Tuesday.
“We have an installation plan if the council approves the expenditure,” he said. “When they are delivered, we’ll send the first unit up and it takes about a month to install and check everything. When the first one is done, we’ll send the next one up. … we’ll have all three motors installed and these three engines will be back in service by the start of the next summer season. We’ll only do one at a time so we don’t compromise our operational readiness.”