What would happen if the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) started only answering emergency medical calls originating within municipal limits? Who would cover a majority of the West Ocean City service calls? It’s an unknown at this time.
At a meeting this week, Ocean City officials told the Worcester County Commissioners the OCFD would only continue to cover West Ocean City emergency medical calls if the county provided the city with the funds it requires to provide the service. It’s an understandable request, but county officials are not ready to provide an answer because it carries huge financial ramifications.
Along with the huge expense, another major issue facing the county is the precedent it would set because there are other fire departments in the county that also provide emergency service outside their municipal limits. However, their service pales in comparison to the call volume the OCFD responds to for West Ocean City requests. The demand is only going to increase in future years.
It was reported this week Ocean City responded to 828 calls for emergency medical service in West Ocean City in 2018, representing 13% of the calls Ocean City EMS fielded that year. According to city officials, the cost to provide the service is now $458,843. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan summed up the problem before the commissioners this week when he said, “The most important question I need to ask is do you want us to provide EMS service to West Ocean City area? When you provide a service, you have to be paid for providing that service. The taxpayers of Ocean City can no longer subsidize half a million dollars a year to provide service outside the municipality.”
Along with the financial aspect, a pressing matter for the OCFD is West Ocean City responses often leave crews shorthanded on the island, raising serious public safety questions for residents and visitors in Ocean City. Compensation is a must to ensure the city has the resources to protect its own people and properties.
Ocean City and Worcester County officials must work together here. The problem is simple, but the solution is complicated. We see the only realistic answer as a compromise. We favor a phased-in payment plan over five to seven years from the county to fund Ocean City’s expenses for West Ocean City service. This will relax the county’s budget ramifications while creating a fair response to the city’s hardship.