OCEAN CITY – Efforts to get Ocean City fire services back on track were made this week with the decision by the Mayor and Council to offer the position of interim fire chief to Volunteer Fire Chief Chris Larmore.
Public outcry was resounding this week as local business owners, residents and volunteer firefighters poured into City Hall in an effort to mend the breach that resulted from last week’s split decision from the Mayor and Council that ultimately denied Larmore the position of interim fire chief for the town.
The council chambers at City Hall was standing room only at Tuesday night’s regular session of the Mayor and Council, and although tensions ran high and debate ensued, progress was made.
Council President Joe Mitrecic was the first to address the proverbial elephant in the room, reading a proposal and recommendation that he drafted the night before.
“I like many others in the town have had trouble focusing on anything else since last Tuesday’s work session. The ramifications of the vote taken that day will be felt for a long time to come. We as a council and the OCVFC need to take the measures necessary to begin an honest and sincere dialogue to plan for the future fire protection of the town,” read Mitrecic.
Mitrecic went on to recommend that Mayor Rick Meehan draft a letter to the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company (OCVFC) requesting that Larmore serve as the interim fire chief for the town with some conditions.
The caveats listed in Mitrecic’s recommendation included the following; Larmore agrees to step down as OCFVC during the interim period; he answers to the City Council through the city manager and Joe Theobald, director of Emergency Services; delegate all authority to manage the fire/EMS division to Captain Chuck Barton who will answer to Larmore; Theobald will continue with all other emergency management and communication responsibilities; there would be no organizational restructuring during the interim period; and the OCFVC agrees to work with the Mayor and Council to schedule a strategic planning retreat.
Although the Mayor and City Council agreed on the majority of Mitrecic’s proposal, several council members and residents were displeased with the request to have Larmore resign from his current position as volunteer fire chief.
“I just don’t understand why you would ask this man to step down as chief of the volunteer fire company,” said Councilman Jim Hall.
Councilwoman Nancy Howard maintained her opposition to the appointment of Larmore as an interim chief.
“Now the volunteer fire company will have another chief, there’s always going to be two chiefs,” she said.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas also voiced opposition, questioning why the entire council had not been notified of the recommendation.
“I do not like the fact that it was changed and I was not told,” she said.
Mitrecic said, “I don’t understand what’s new. I took a synopsis of what went on last meeting and I tried to come up with a settlement that I thought we could all live with and now that’s being questioned.”
Meehan urged the council to support the recommendation and move forward.
“I think this is a great win-win situation for everybody. If we can make this work today, then we can make this work in our future,” said Meehan. “This was done to take a little bit of what everybody wanted.”
Hall pointed out that while the council is offering Larmore the position it’s including a major caveat. Hall said, “To me this is a yes, but …”
Several residents also spoke to the issue.
“I think your motion to ask him to resign is ridiculous,” said John Adkins, 911 responder for Delmarva Power.
“What happens when you find somebody in three months. What would the chief do then, go back and ask for his job back,” said Jim Flaig.
Larmore weighed in as well, explaining that he could not make any decision until he reviewed the document with the OCVFC.
“I would like the council to continue with this, but I would like to take a 7-0 vote back to my membership to discuss this issue with them,” said Larmore.
Despite Larmore’s request for a unified decision, the council voted 4-3 for Meehan to send the proposal in the form of a letter to Larmore. In favor were Mitrecic and Council members Mary Knight, Lloyd Martin and Jay Hancock. Voting against were Hall, Pillas and Howard
In an interview with Larmore yesterday, he confirmed that he had received the letter from the mayor and would be reviewing it with the OCVFC in the near future. Although he is scheduled to leave town for a few days, Larmore maintained that the issue would not be put on hold in his absence.
“I have assured the mayor that the document will start to be reviewed in my absence and we will be getting back to him promptly,” Larmore said.
When asked about the overwhelming support the OCVFC has received from the community, Larmore noted that the community has always been the volunteers’ main focus.
“Obviously that’s our entire focus, to be able to make the right decision for the public,” he said. “You don’t turn your back on that type of support. We’ve been supporting them and they’ve been supporting us for over 100 years. That’s why we’re here.”
Larmore maintained that a unified council is also a priority in moving forward.
“Does anyone want to be in a position to work for a leadership that’s not in unity?,” questioned Larmore, adding that the goal has been and will remain to be to move forward as a unit. “I want them to set me up for success. I don’t want them to set me up for failure. If you can get them behind you, and you can get the public behind you, that tends to paint a much better outlook for everyone.”
Although no decision has been made as to whether Larmore will accept the Mayor and Council’s offer, Larmore does wish to move forward with the progress that was made last year and the goals that he laid out last Tuesday.
“I have the same visions that I explained last Tuesday, to continue to build the fire service,” he said.
As for any rumors of ultimately applying for the paid fire chief position, Larmore said there is no truth to that claim.
“I have no interest whatsoever in the permanent job, nor do I have any interest in an compensation between now and then,” he said. “My interest is because I believe in this.”
Larmore remains hopeful that the town will move forward with the ultimate goal of continuing to build the combination fire services for Ocean City.