(March 15, 2013) After a considerable period of limbo, the Town of Ocean City has renewed its memorandum of understanding with the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company, ensuring that the volunteer division of the multi-pronged Ocean City Fire Department will remain steadfast in the ongoing tension over the organization’s hierarchy.
OCVFC President Cliff Christello signed the agreement at this week’s City Council session along with Mayor Rick Meehan, who praised “the intangible and immense benefit that all such charitable and volunteer associations contribute.”
“It’s refreshing to have something like this that we can continue to do,” Christello said. “It reinforces to us that the mayor and council will continue to work with us, and want us to be here.”
The substantive change to the MOU, city officials said, is that it removes OCFD Chief Chris Larmore as a specific party to the agreement, and instead places him in the same structure, under the city manager, as all other city department heads.
“That [old agreement] was a three-party MOU between myself, the volunteers, and the city,” Larmore said this week. “This new MOU is now a two-party agreement between the volunteers and the town.”
That legal language dates back to the 2007 row between the city and the volunteer company that led to the current setup of the OCFD. At that time, allegations arose that the city was planning to place an emergency services director over both the OCVFC and an expanded paid fire corps, and whose operational directives would supersede those of the volunteer company.
Larmore, then the OCVFC chief, said the plan was “an unacceptable public safety practice” and “an unsound and dual command structure where truth is alien and duplicity rules.” The OCVFC then stated that it would relinquish fire service on the island and move its primary operations to West Ocean City due to its inability to “function under this umbrella of distrust and deceit.”
A compromise was reached under which Larmore would become the interim head of a fully combined fire department, for a starting salary of $1 per year, in which both volunteer and paid firefighters and EMS personnel serve under the same administrative structure.
But because Larmore has since become the permanent, fully compensated chief of the department, the city suggested this past fall that the agreement was moot, and needed to be revised in order to reflect the fact that Larmore was no longer serving as an interim chief on behalf of the volunteers.
Even under the new MOU, however, the OCVFC still maintains its right to appeal directly to the city’s elected body.
“The Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company reserves its long-standing right to communicate directly to the mayor and council on all standing matters,” Meehan said. “That did not change and it will not change.”
Since the topic of revising the MOU was first broached some months ago, multiple members of the city’s administration have noted that the volunteer company was reluctant towards any change in Larmore’s powers, likely due to the ongoing tension between Larmore’s administration and the city’s paid, unionized fire division which Larmore now manages.
As previously reported in Ocean City Today, conflicts over scheduling and promotions have become increasingly heated be-
tween Larmore’s command and the city’s chapter of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
“The terminology is exactly the same [in the new MOU], in that I have full operational and administrative authority over all three divisions [the volunteer company, the career division, and the Office of the Fire Marshal],” Larmore said.
The city has completed negotiations on a new collective bargaining contract with the IAFF, but the document has yet to be ratified by the union, city officials said this week.