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Ocean City

OCFD maintains service, but looks forward to increased staff

(March 15, 2013) The Ocean City Fire Department’s final report for the 2012 calendar year has shown that, despite continuing scheduling and staffing difficulties, the department has been able to maintain and adapt its services.

OCFD Chief Chris Larmore informed the City Council this week that the department fielded nearly 6,000 calls over the year, with an average response time of four minutes and 33 seconds, “far exceeding the national average and expectation.”

Despite the town’s massive population fluctuation, Larmore said that there has historically been “very little variation over the 12 months in a year” in call volume, although the volume “does migrate from south to north during the season,” with more emergencies on the south end of the resort in the early months of summer, and more on the north end in the latter part of the high season.

Regardless, the department’s response time – from when a call comes in until emergency personnel arrive on the scene – has always hovered around four and a half minutes for the past several years.

Further, the OCFD does not “stack” calls, Larmore said, meaning that calls don’t go unanswered until a crew finishes another call.

This is extremely difficult, Larmore said, given the need to balance having enough crews on-duty versus having too many crews who are being paid when not needed. Although the city’s volunteer company is “holding their own,” Larmore said he relies heavily on career firefighters to fill vacant shifts.

Many of these paid personnel are primarily employed by other jurisdictions, making scheduling a challenge, especially since the OCFD has maintained its policy of requiring personnel to have at least eight hours of rest between shifts.

To this end, Larmore said that the department issues “shift reports” every 12 hours to keep track of how many crews are needed and what their workload is, a function that was recently expanded to operations in West Ocean City as well. This is particularly important when it comes to special events in the summer.

“Naturally, this year we’ll be planning for those exact locations and special events,” Larmore said.

Regardless of good planning, however, the department is struggling with a heavier workload and a lack of personnel – the last new OCFD employees were hired seven years ago, Larmore said. Seven persons have left the department since then, and a staffing study indicated that, assuming those vacancies were filled, the department would need to add a further six employees to ideally handle its call volume.

Given that the gap has been closed with part-time and overtime work, it may be cheaper for the city to simply hire additional salaried personnel. The department will be seeking 12 new hires for this budget year, Larmore said.

To further ensure good service, Larmore is also planning to expand a program whereby patient reports and responses are analyzed to determine the effectiveness of service.

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