OCEAN CITY – In need of a fire rescue boat, the Ocean City Fire Department (OCFD) received approval from the Mayor and Council to move forward this week with acquisition of the vessel.
According to OCFD Chief Chris Larmore, Ocean City contains 688 boat slips, 475 boat racks and 2,051 waterfront addresses. Within those addresses, 98 percent are residential, and 22 percent were built before the 1989 sprinkler legislation.
West Ocean City contains 328 waterfront homes that are built in non-hydrant areas. There were 223 building and house fires OCFD responded to between February 2006 and July 2009. Out of those fires, 16 percent were adjacent to the shoreline.
Between 2006 and 2010, there were 111 winter rescues or searches in Ocean City’s surrounding waters. There were 23 boat accidents or assists for stranded boaters as well as 12 Hazmat spills, five boat fires and two marsh fires.
The OCFD’s current resources to respond in such matters are two Jon Boats, which are not sufficient enough to handle many accidents that occur. They are mainly used in flooding or storms. There is no current marine resource for EMS patient care.
“You can see that I’m not coming to you saying that in the future there may be a need,” Larmore said. “There was clearly a need in the last four years.”
There have been three recent accidents, including a house fire in a row of town houses built over the bay, a boat had crashed into the Route 90 bridge leaving four people in critical conditional and a sport fishing boat caught fire off 118th Street 300 yards into the ocean.
OCFD support is limited between the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Maryland Natural Resource Police (NRP). As of 2004, the USCG no longer attempts to respond to boat fires due to limitations in manpower, equipment and an increase in liability.
“The USCG is there for one reason and that is life safety, not for property,” Larmore said.
The MNRP also has no firefighting capability.
“That really opened our eyes for the need to explore…in how to bridge that gap,” Larmore said.
Larmore could not stress enough the need for the fire rescue boat.
“Although we do have the need to have a fire suppression vessel, where we truly need the boat now…is EMS care,” Larmore said.
Larmore referred to the number of personal watercraft accidents in the summer time as a main reason for the need of a rescue boat. Currently the USCG or NRP are also not set up for patient care in those situations.
OCFD’s dive team also currently has no platform to work off of. The USGC and NRP are also limited in equipment for a dive team. The fire rescue boat would also provide the dive team accessibility to rescue in such accidents.
In April of 2008 a CDI Marine, an outside agency, conducted a study on Ocean City’s need for a fire rescue boat. According to the study, Ocean City’s densely populated shoreline and numerous marinas, among other items, resulted in the CDI and a fireboat workgroup recommending a fire rescue boat to accommodate all equipment, EMS, firefighting, hazmat, and dive. Also, the hull design would have to be designed to operate in shallow water, due to the city’s many canals.
“In order to find a watercraft that can go in shallow water, it needs to be jet drive,” Larmore said.
Jet drive watercrafts require diesel fuel, which adds to the high cost of the vessel. The estimated preliminary cost for the boat is $350,000 to $600,000.
The OCFD has been approved for a Maryland Department of Natural Resources Waterway Improvement Grant. The grant gives $150,000, but it must be matched 50/50 with Ocean City, granting the OCFD $300,000 toward a fire rescue boat.
According to Larmore, in the words of one of the grant coordinators the justifications spoke for themselves.
‘This bay in the middle of the summer time is the second most congested waterway in the state of Maryland, “Larmore said. “Only second to the Inner Harbor in Baltimore.”
The clock is ticking against the OCFD because the first portion of that grant expires this spring.
Some concerns are over the training costs of personnel once OCFD purchases the fire rescue boat.
In hopes of acquiring the vessel three years ago, the OCFD was offered a United Sates Power Squadron’s class and 14 safety personnel passed.
Also, two years ago career and volunteer employees achieved their captains license from the USCG and six of them went on to receive their masters.
Councilman Doug Cymek made a motion to authorize Larmore to distribute the Request For Proposal (RFP), which was seconded by Councilwoman Margaret Pillas.
Cymek later amended his motion at the suggestion of Councilman Lloyd Cymek to present the county with the presentation to request for additional funds because the county owns half of the bay.
The council voted unanimously to accept the motion.