OCFD Chief Richard Bowers

Ocean City Fire Chief Richard Bowers speaks to the Worcester County Commissioners about the request to allocate $500 per partial run for Fire/EMS vehicles. The commissioners voted 5-2 to table to request pending the production of more financial information. Currently, those vehicles are compensated $1,000 per run but only if they make it to the scene they’re called to. It’s especially an issue for rural fire departments who often travel long distances and sometimes get called off in transit.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted 5-2 on Nov. 2 to table a request that would give fire and EMS services a $500 response-only grant when those services don’t make it to the scene.

The request is designed to allow a vehicle to return to service and still receive funds to offset the costs of the response and continue the on-scene reimbursement for arrival response and on-scene actions, according to a memo to the commissioners from Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young.

Currently, emergency services are compensated $1,000 when their vehicle both responds and makes it to a scene.

“If a fire company is dispatched to a location and is called off a quarter-way, halfway or however far they get along the line, there is no funding,” Commissioner President Joe Mitrecic said.

Mitrecic and Commissioners Jim Bunting and Josh Nordstrom are members of a committee with emergency service officials whose aim is to identify ways to improve emergency services for the county and direct funding where it’s most needed.

Nordstrom pointed out an argument he heard from the Snow Hill Volunteer Fire Company, which often responds to calls some 30 minutes away.

“If their call is canceled, they have to decide whether to keep going or turn around and go back and not get paid,” Nordstrom said. “That’s a very difficult decision for them to make, because they already expended some resources to go part of the way … This seemed like a very good compromise because we were told, not just by Snow Hill and other companies, they would rather turn around and go back because they would prefer to keep their equipment closer to the majority of the people they serve.”

While stressing that he wasn’t against the new allocation necessarily, Commissioner Chip Bertino said the commissioners need to wait for the fire companies to provide more financial information before making a decision, especially seeing as this request comes in the middle of a budget cycle.

“My understanding of this committee was (it’s meant) to look at long-term objectives — how we handle fire and emergency departments moving forward,” Bertino said. “It had a more longer term view than just this next budget cycle. I’m just hoping that’s the case, because when I see something like this it just looks like we’re nitpicking or cherrypicking different things and not looking at the whole issue as a whole.”

Commissioner Ted Elder concurred. 

“I would like to have figures and do this at the budget time, whatever we need to do,” he said. “This may be cost-saving. I don’t know. But I’d like to see the figures first.”

The financial information should be available to the commissioners in January.

Mitrecic said giving this project the green light now would allow them time before next spring’s budget planning to see how effective a plan of the nature would be. 

He also appeared skeptical of a request for “more information.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time and everyone that I’ve ever sat with when they want to postpone something they’d say they needed more information,” Mitrecic said. “Either stand up and say you don’t want to do it or stand up and say you do want to do it, but (the fire companies’) financials … are not an issue.”

Mitrecic and Nordstrom opposed the motion.

This story appears in the print edition of the OC Today on Nov. 12.

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