(Oct. 18, 2013) Ocean City’s Fire Department is making headway in efforts to close its manpower gap, although the effort will be ongoing, City Council heard this week.
OCFD Chief Chris Larmore reported that the seven new hires for the department, authorized under the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget, will soon be active. The department had been under a hiring freeze since the 2008-2009 fiscal crisis.
“They’ll actually be on the road by the third week in November,” Larmore said.
In addition to the new paid personnel, the department’s volunteer division will be expanding its live-in program, which allows volunteer members to take a greater rotation of shifts. Expanded live-in facilities are under construction with the rebuilding of the department’s Station 4 at 130th Street.
“We actually have a waiting list of personnel waiting to go into Station 4 when it’s finished,” Larmore said.
He also reported that the 2013 season “was probably one of the best over the last five years that we’ve kept detailed statistics” as far as personnel availability.
“Only six times through the entire summer did we actually utilize every crew, to the point where a call came in and we did not have an available ambulance,” Larmore said. “Those six times, we either split a crew or used a supervisor on a call.”
The average response time this past summer has been reduced from four minutes and 30 seconds last year to four minutes and two seconds this year, within the town limits.
However, over 50 percent of the department’s personnel will be eligible for retirement within the next two-and-a-half years, Larmore noted. He has been working extensively on succession planning to make sure that key command positions do not go unfilled.
There is one lieutenant’s vacancy, with nine applicants interested in the spot, Larmore said.
The department is also working on a consolidated system for recognitions and awards, bridging the gap between the different merits given out for firefighters and paramedics as well as volunteer and paid personnel.
“Everyone would like to have a consolidated means to come together and recognize our outstanding individuals,” Larmore said.
He also noted that the department has surveyed the Boardwalk to plan for emergencies, in light of the recent fire at the Seaside Heights, N.J. boardwalk. One of the issues cited in that incident was the apparent under-response early in the blaze, when the fire was believed to have been contained before it destroyed 68 businesses.
The OCFD, Larmore said, would continue to respond in full to every alarm, despite some criticism that it was over-committing resources.
“They can criticize all they want. It’s better to have too much than not enough,” said Council President Lloyd Martin.