OC Council Approves Plan Extending Fire Apparatus Life

OCEAN CITY — A plan to get more longevity out of the Ocean City Fire Department’s apparatus was approved this week along with a detail schematic on how to fund replacements in the long-term.

Last year, after a couple of unanticipated expenditures for fire department apparatus repairs, the Mayor and Council instructed Chief Richie Bowers and his staff to conduct a detailed study of the department’s fleet of apparatus and come up with a plan for how to replace it over the next few years. On Tuesday, Bowers presented the plan, which has been extended from five years to 10 to the Mayor and Council.

“Our leadership met last year to look at the plan,” he said. “That was something the council asked us to do. We made some significant adjustments in terms of the length of service for some of the apparatus. We had a five-year plan, but it extended it out to 10 years.”

For some of the larger vehicles, such as fire engines and tower trucks, Bowers said tough decisions were made about getting more life out of them.

“We made some decisions as an executive team to delay the purchase of engines and towers for an additional five years,” he said. “As a result, the engines will be replaced at 20 years instead of 15 years, and the towers will be replaced at 25 years instead of 20 years.”

There are some challenges with eking out more miles out of the older equipment.

“There are some concerns about the availability of parts, but I believe, based on conversations with my contacts in manufacturing, we can sustain this over that five to 10-year period at least,” he said. “We are also fortunate to have two great mechanics that are aggressive in getting the parts for the apparatus as they get older. There are other concerns about the possible impacts of the apparatus not having new safety components or new technology.”

Budget Manager Jennie Knapp laid out a finance plan to go along with the now-10-year fire apparatus replacement strategy. She said in a typical year, the town has been making a $400,000 contribution to the fire apparatus fund, but that number is expected to swell in the upcoming budget cycle.

“We looked at this and saw that would jump to $670,000 in fiscal year 2022,” she said. “That’s a big number, but I have two options. One option is to transfer some of that from this year, so we can bring that number down a little bit.”

Knapp said the annual county fire grant was about $53,000 over estimate and that could be transferred from the current fiscal year budget. In addition, the town also funded an elevator repair at fire headquarters at $170,000, and that project will not be completed in the current budget cycle.

The town did contract with an engineering consultant to determine whether the elevator can be repaired or needs to be replaced at a cost of $15,000 and estimates are forthcoming. With the $53,000 from the county fire grant overage, and the $155,000 from the elevator repair allocation, the fiscal year 2021 contribution could be raised to $608,000.

Also under option one, in fiscal year 2022, the town would budget $461,000 instead of $400,000, with the $61,000 coming from the anticipated overage in the county fire grant. In fiscal years 2023 to 2025, the town’s contribution would increase gradually to $500,000, and to $550,000 in fiscal years 2026 to 2029.

Under option two, the same adjustments from the current fiscal year would be made, bringing the total contribution in fiscal year 2021 to $608,000. In the upcoming budget cycle, the contribution would be $517,000.

“If we’re able to do that, we could smooth out our contribution in the next six fiscal years at $520,000,” said Knapp. “Option two is my preference because we could have something to count on from fiscal year 2023 through fiscal year 2029.”

Councilman Lloyd Martin said he preferred option two and made a motion to approve the 10-year apparatus plan and its spending strategy.

“I know last year you replaced three motors on apparatus and it was a good investment,” he said. “That seems to be working out well. Longevity of the equipment is something we always want to look at. Our fire department is very important to us and we don’t want anything out of service for a period of time.”

Councilman Tony DeLuca also supported option two and seconded Martin’s motion.

“I like the fact there are no additional costs initially for the town because it comes out of the grants,” he said. “It seems like there are no surprises with this plan. There is no sudden ‘we need an ambulance.’ It’s a well thought-out five- to 10-year plan.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the extended 10-year plan and the option two strategy for how to pay for it.

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.