(March 15, 2019) The Ride Along Program has been part of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company longer than 29-year veteran James L. Jester.

Jester, the company’s president and first assistant chief, fondly recalls his first days on the job in Ocean City, when out-of-town firefighters joined him and fellow volunteers on fire calls. Not much has changed with the program these days, except the sheer importance of it.

“Actually, we’ve never really pushed it until the past year. It’s always been there, but it’s never really been a focal point,” Jester, 53, said.

But the focus has changed in the past year. Anyone expressing interest in becoming a firefighter immediately learns about the Ride Along Program. Anyone requesting information about programs Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company offers gets an earful about the program.

The Ride Along Program has a more prominent place on the fire company’s website.

“The reason why I wanted to put it on the front burner is because of our retention recruitment efforts,” Jester said. “It was a tool that I envisioned was being underutilized at the time. I wanted to move it up and try to bolster our recruitment efforts.”

Jester said no graduates of the Ride Along Program currently belong to the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company. Still, the program’s popularity has grown since Jester and his colleagues have made a more concerted effort to promote it.

“I can tell you we had more people ride along last year than we’ve ever had ride along before,” Jester said of a program that received 85 applications in the final seven months of 2018 and 97 last year overall.

The Ride Along Program caters primarily to firefighters with at least some experience and primarily features visiting firefighters from out-of-town companies looking to sharpen their skills in Ocean City’s busy summer months.

The program offers rides roughly every 10 days in the summer before scaling back extensively in the resort’s quieter offseason. 

Still, Jester said he believes better days for recruiting future firefighters lie ahead, especially if those firefighters share their experiences with family, friends and others.

That may pique their interest in joining the program, Jester said, which may one day lead them to join him as a firefighter at Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company.

“I don’t think that it’s going to bear fruit immediately,” Jester said, “because most people that are going to come do a ride along are people that live out of town and aren’t going to be able to give us the time that’s necessary to be a volunteer. I’m hoping we get it to aid our recruitment effort on the back end more so than it does on the actual front end.”

Participants must have training or qualifications equal to the Maryland Fire I Certification to earn this opportunity, because they can fight fires while out on rides. That aspect of the program is why company officials shy away from having civilians on board. “We don’t let them wear the air packs and go into the interior,” he said. “But those individuals that participate in the program are able to fight exterior fire.”

That always has been the case, as far back as Jester can remember. The Ride Along Program, he said, “was already there. We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. All we had to do was dust it off and put it at the forefront, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

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