Live-in program saves city $600K in salariesVolunteers sleep in bunks in resort, West Ocean City to support OCFD’s needs
(April 7, 2017) Responding to the City Council’s questions on the financial return Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company’s live-in program, fire department leaders issued a report that determines the program saves the city somewhere between $600,000 to $1 million a year.
That amount reflects the 40 to 48 hours per week of wages Ocean City would need to pay a career firefighter instead of relying on the 10 on-duty volunteers who stay in fire stations free. Underlying costs and benefits do not factor into that estimate, according to the report.
The low-end of the cost range reflects time that officials have to wait for live-ins to receive physicals, therefore officially starting the job. The $1 million amount demonstrates a full shift without rounding, such as a volunteer arriving five minutes late.
“The ‘live-in’ program today augments the departmental mission to provide the best service possible at the most reasonable cost,” wrote Fire Chief Chris Larmore in the report.
The Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company compiled the report to present to its Board of Directors on Wednesday, but Larmore also sent a copy to City Manager Doug Miller as a way to quantify the program’s economic impact.
During a bid opening for design plans for a new mid-town fire station last week, Councilman Wayne Hartman asked for an overview of the program and said that it had no structure and no clear savings.
“This program has teeth,” Volunteer Fire Company President Jay Jester. “It’s important to support the fire department’s functionality and it has no impact on the budget. It’s a win-win, and rarely in life do you have something like that.”
The volunteer live-in program has been around, in some form or another, for 40 years, and offers participants an opportunity to live rent-free in exchange for responding to emergency calls.
Participants must be at least 18 years old, but must be 21 years old to drive fire department equipment. Under program requirements that were amended in 2013, volunteers also must be employed for 20 hours per week or be a part-time student. At any time a live-in loses his or her job or drops out of school, that person will have 60 days to regain it before being terminated from the program.
Volunteer members are required to be living in a station a minimum of four nights a week between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. They are expected to run calls when they are in the station, with the exception of 2 hours prior to any work or school responsibility, the requirements state.
“Live-ins are allowed to sleep during their stay at the fire house, but they’re still expected to answer calls,” Jester said. “It’s hard to sleep through a radio that loud.”
The program is overseen by Assistant Chief Jeff Aperance. His responsibilities include scheduling the minimum crew requirements, performing monthly and non-monthly inspection of the stations and coordinating whatever disciplinary action when necessary.
At the moment, live-ins record their hours in a paper logbook, but Jester said the company is looking into an online timesheet service.
“If the log book is doctored, like it says they were there when it wasn’t, that results in an automatic dismissal,” he said. “The coordinator is required to look at it every three months, but he can look at it at any time.”
Live-ins are also spread out on fire stations on the island and in West Ocean City. There are four bunks in Station 4 at 130th Street and three bunks in 15th Street headquarters. Both facilities were renovated in the past three years.
The volunteer’s headquarters on Keyser Point Road has three bunks as well.
Larmore wrote in his report that the program has never failed to be at capacity, He also noted that one of the issues is intermittent vacancies when one live-in leaves and the fire department waits for a new one. Jester pointed out the problem isn’t applicants.
“We have around 200 inquires. About 75 percent of those would want to work in the summer, and 25 percent said they’d work year-round,” he said. “If we accepted about half of those year-round applicants, that’s 25 live-ins. I just need the space to put them.”
Fire Station 3 on 74th Street currently has no live-in bunks, and the council committed to a plan to eventually build a new station in 2015. Rough outlines of that plan would have the firehouse move to 65th Street and include four beds, mirroring the 130th Street location. City staff projected that building new mid-town fire station would cost around $3.3 million.
Last week, a council majority voted to use $30,000 that was earmarked for design plans for the new station for repair work on the current one instead.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Jester said. “It’s taxpayer money, and they have to answer to them to use that money responsibly.”