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Ocean City

OC Fire Department awaiting big improvements in coming year

June, July prove busiest for service calls while August declines; changes planned

ZACK HOOPES ¦ Staff Writer

OC Fire Chief Chris Larmore OC Fire Chief Chris Larmore(Nov. 16, 2012) Success is often a loosely defined term, depending on how high one’s expectations are. But in the case of the Ocean City Fire Department, those expectations are fairly clear-cut.

“When everyone goes home safe and we stay within our budget,” is how OCFD Chief Chris Larmore described it Tuesday in the department’s general report to City Council.

Despite some resource shortages, Larmore described this past summer as a “successful season” for the OCFD in terms of its ability to handle the volume of calls without compromising the safety of the public or its own employees.

Larmore reported that June and July of this year were exceptionally busy, while August seems to have become a definitively “slow” month, at least as far as emergency services are concerned. Overall summer call volume was down 1.5 percent.

“June and July were up substantially,” Larmore said. “So it would appear that the calls were down so much in August that it offset the increase in June and July, and then some.”

He also noted that the beginning of the summer seems to present the most traffic difficulties as well, with random backups occurring more often.

“Another challenge early in June was that we had more unexpected traffic delays coming into town, and quite honestly we couldn’t figure out why,” Larmore said.

But this year’s experience “will allow us to go and increase staff early in the summer, especially with some of these special events,” Larmore said.

The OCFD continues to be strapped for personnel. With the municipal hiring freeze still in effect, Larmore has previously stated that he is approaching the point of diminishing returns with its workforce – it will soon be cheaper to hire new rescue personnel than it will be to continue to pay overtime for current employees to cover vacant shifts.

“We stepped up, even without some of the full-time personnel that we know has been a challenge for us,” Larmore said. “I’m pleased to report that we had 100 percent of our personnel working … we completed the season without injuries.”

Larmore also reminded council of the department’s upcoming capital improvements. The OCFD’s much-anticipated fireboat project is close to being finished, with the final product expected to be much more than had even been anticipated.

A boat-building outfit run by Seacrets owner Leighton Moore has been working on the construction of the boat for some time, largely on a pro-bono basis, adding a number of features and improvements, free of charge, that go much further than the original specifications the city paid for.

“At this point, the boat is very near completion. It’s ready for sea trials, although it did run a bit behind, but that’s nothing that was unanticipated,” Larmore said. “The manufacturer added a significant number of improvements at no cost to the city or the fire department.”

Larmore also added that the docking and lift equipment for the boat’s berth on the bay at 13th Street has been gratis as well. “The boat manufacturer stepped up and donated that 100 percent,” he said.

Larmore further noted that “overdue renovations” for the department headquarters on 15th Street and fire substation number four on 130th Street are close to being underway. The OCFD has been working with City Engineer Terry McGean to come up with specifications and cost estimates for the improvements.

“I hope to be able to bring those plans to the mayor and council in the very near future,” Larmore said, “although station four is much closer [to being ready] than headquarters. Both of those projects would start in the fall of next year.”

Larmore also got approval from council to make a sole-source purchase of a new ambulance, built by Horton Emergency Vehicles and sold through FESCO Emergency Sales as part of a municipal purchasing cooperative set up by the Houston-Galveston Area Council.

The department’s aging ambulance fleet, whose replacement has been put off over several tight budgets, has been previously reported to have major maintenance and breakdown issues. Larmore reported in July that the department was leasing some replacement vehicles on a short-term basis.

Previous allocations put the cost at $248,000, but the current purchase price is $250,515. Larmore said the department is working with city Budget Manager Jennie Knapp to re-allocate funds from elsewhere to make up the difference.

“We are on a government contract with Houston in order to ensure that that is a fair and equitable price,” Larmore said. “The budget manager has indicated that she will be able to accommodate that request.”

The new paramedic unit will go a long way towards standardizing the department’s motor pool, in an attempt to minimize maintenance difficulty. The ambulance will feature the same Hortonbuilt patient compartment as all the department’s other units, and the International cab and chassis will be identical to all but one of the existing vehicles.

“That is currently the same manufacturer as eight of our nine units in terms of the chassis, and nine of nine with the box,” Larmore said. “Horton is the only manufacturer today that exceeds all the specifications … with regards to airbags and the patient compartment.”

Larmore also reported that the depart- ment’s 96-hour storm plan, developed after Hurricane Irene last year, was highly successful during Sandy. Fifty-two rescue workers were scheduled for what the department anticipated as a four-day event.

“In addition, we had personnel assigned to complete paperwork during the storm, not after the storm,” Larmore said. The OCFD was squared away and back to a normal footing only a week after the hurricane muster, he said.

The department also recently completed a Dale Carnegie leadership training course. Twenty-eight officers participated, which was “well worth the expense” from the department’s training allocation, Larmore said.

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