Summer numbers don’t reflect claims of response problems
(Sept. 14, 2018) Fire Chief Chris Larmore fired back Tuesday at accusations of mismanagement this summer, telling the City Council his department had stellar audit results, lowered response times, and positive budget numbers.
In presenting a summary of operations during the season, Larmore said, “We were criticized prematurely in various circles that we had reduced services. In fact, we have reallocated but improved our service.”
The performance evaluation encompassed calls for service between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“Call volume was down a bit for the season and that may have been weather related,” he said. “Our calls generally do follow the patterns of the people that are in town.”
Larmore said the concern about service reduction was sparked over a change in high-rise structure responses based on an analysis of call logs by the Fire Marshal’s Office in January.
“We [previously] ran a fire engine and medic unit on buildings of seven or more stories,” he said.
After examining more than 700 comparable calls recorded over the last three years, only a handful requested ambulance service, with medical transport needed in only two instances, Larmore said.
“For that reason, we modified the matrix where that ambulance is not automatically dispatched to those calls,” he said. “The concept was to make sure that resource may be available on other calls … in a more timely fashion.”
Larmore applauded the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company for providing a significantly increased presence this summer, including overnight coverage and “duty crews,” for peak shifts, which totaled more than 12,400 hours.
The summary said company members worked 8,940 hours in 2017 and 9,290 hours during 2016.
“They provide duty crews from 7 at night until 7 in the morning,” he said.
In May, Larmore spoke with fire company leaders and members about revised shift coverage.
“I was not asking for additional resources, I was asking for a reallocation of resources,” he said.
With data showing emergency crews are busiest on weekend nights and Sunday, Larmore said volunteers were asked to work revised schedules this summer.
“They gave the same number of hours that they historically have, plus filled ... time periods where we knew we were going to be busy and that kept more units in service,” he said.
Larmore also said response times of 3:40 this summer improved upon the 3:56 mark from the year prior.
“Response times is not the make it or break it need of the service that you give,” he said. “The vast majority of medical calls response time is not crucial to the outcome.”
Still, Larmore said the response time is closely monitored as one indicator of overall service levels.
“We [also] look at very closely the number of times that we do not have an available unit,” he said.
This figure was reduced from seven instances during 2017, to only a pair so far this year, Larmore said.
“We believe it’s a responsibility from us to the citizenry that when they call 911 they have an immediate response,” he said.
Despite not having a staff unit available only twice out of more than 2,800 calls this summer, Larmore said the most recent occurrence, over Labor Day, supplied evidence of the commitment of area fire fighters.
“We had several serious calls over Labor Day weekend all within an hour,” he said.
Regardless of being caught momentarily short-staffed, Larmore said help arrived quickly after the alarm was sounded.
“Literally, before the next call came in, we had a response of up to 15 volunteers and four additional career people before the next call,” he said. “That’s an incredible allocation of resources.”
Larmore also told the council an emergency preparedness audit performed by Insurance Services Office between February and March, which was last completed in 2014, improved by more than 60 percent.
“We actually found the most significant improvement in the history of the fire departments,” he said. “That moved us up to a 91.4 percent and I think that’s an A in anybody’s book.”
Budget numbers have trended positively, the chief reported, with career, volunteer and EMS divisions all under budget for fiscal year 2018 that ended June 30.
“We entered this summer with some challenges that were overcome mainly through several changes in our response matrix, staffing models and the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company added 36 hours of weekly coverage in peak times,” he said. “Simply put, we had a plan to put our resources where they could be better utilized … it worked and that cannot be questioned.”