OCEAN CITY– Resort officials this week voted to support a new program meant to aid in EMT recruitment efforts.
The Ocean City Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday to approve an in-house part-time EMT recruit class program. Recruits would be paid to attend the class in exchange for signing a three-year contract with the town.
“It’s something the department has not done before,” Fire Chief Richie Bowers said. “It’s something I believe might bear some fruit, not only immediately but in the future. We wanted to come out of the gate with our best foot forward.”
Bowers approached the council during Tuesday’s work session to present plans for an in-house, 10-person part-time EMT recruit class program. EMT recruits would be compensated to attend the class and then required to sign a three-year contract with the town and work 900 hours of part-time for the town.
Bowers said that while he’d hoped to launch the program in the spring, there was too much to organize logistically.
“We’re looking for council approve to march forward for the class to be delivered in the fall of 2024 which would be an FY25 budget request,” he said, adding that he was asking for approval now so he could start advertising the program.
Councilman Matt James asked Bowers how recruiting was currently being handled. Bowers said he’d streamlined the application process and was accepting applications continuously, something that was not done previously.
“We have 39 applicants. That’s probably the most I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Bowers said.
James said he felt traditional recruiting methods should be exhausted before the town spent money on a new program. Bowers said the pilot program was meant to move forward with traditional recruiting.
“Respectfully there was almost no effort in part-time recruiting until I asked questions,” James said. “An email went out that you were getting heat so the position was then opened online.”
Bowers said, “I don’t know that that’s completely accurate. We’ve been recruiting.”
James said the part-time hadn’t been open for people to apply.
“I asked why and then it was opened,” James said. “We’ve got almost 40 qualified candidates in three months.”
He said the part-time position hadn’t been open until he asked about it. Once it was open, he said the town had gotten more than three dozen applicants.
Ryan Whittington, community and department engagement officer for the fire department, said the agency had made an effort to improve recruiting and would continue to do so. He added that staff could visit colleges to recruit but that would have a financial impact.
Bowers stressed that traditional recruiting would continue even if the new program, which he views as a force multiplier, was approved.
“I’m going to vote against it because I’d rather see us focus on what we have implemented and how that pans out,” James said.
Councilman Will Savage said he was cautiously optimistic about the new program.
“Sitting here as a councilmember we’ve tasked staff to reduce overtime and push for part time staff…,” he said, adding that the proposal was a solution that didn’t have a huge financial impact.
Mayor Rick Meehan praised the proposed program.
“We’ve had extensive conversations at our diversity committee about how to expand our recruiting efforts across the board and how to expand opportunities that were not there before to individuals to entice or encourage them to come to work for the Town of Ocean City,” he said. “I think it’s important we consider these programs and move forward. We’re not the only ones out there recruiting.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca said the proposal was creative and should work alongside traditional recruiting.
“The answer’s not either or, the answer is all of the above. We really need both,” he said.
Councilman Peter Buas asked where the money was better spent. Whittington said if he put recruiting visits in the staffing plan he’d likely be told there wasn’t funding for it. Bowers said spending on recruitment efforts could be evaluated at budget time.
Councilwoman Carol Proctor said she felt the town should proceed with its ongoing recruiting efforts as well as the new initiative. City Manager Terry McGean said he liked the new program because participants were signing up to serve a certain number of hours. He said that while it was nice to hire people who were already certified, they often wouldn’t agree to work weekends. The recruits however will serve 500 of their 900 hours on weekends.
“One of the reasons I really liked this program is we get a commitment in exchange for doing this,” he said.
Buas said he had the same concerns as James and questioned if there was a time limit on when the class had to be completed. Bowers said that was still being considered.
When asked about how the town would ensure it was compensated if recruits left the program without completing their hours, the city solicitor said the cost of training would be quantified and the EMT would be advised upfront that they were responsible for that cost if they left the program early.
The council voted 5-1, with James opposed, to implement the new program.