Ocean City Today

Ambulance crew cost raises concerns over fire contract

By Greg Ellison | May 03, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Listening to Fire Chief Chris Larmore detail the need for an extra ambulance crew were Council president Lloyd Martin, left, Mayor Rick Meehan, Councilwoman Mary Knight, Councilman Matt James and Councilman Tony DeLuca during a fiscal year 2019 final budget review on Tuesday.

(May 4, 2018) Seeking financial clarity during the fiscal 2019 final budget review on Tuesday, Councilman Matt James questioned the inclusion of nearly $100,000 for an additional offseason part-time ambulance crew.

Budget Manager Jennie Knapp said an additional cost of $99,092 was required to hire a crew to cover 189 shifts that were added between this September and next May.

James said when the city signed a new contact with the local firefighter/paramedic union in March 2017 an increase in labor costs was not anticipated.

“We were told that the new schedule would be cost-neutral,” he said.

Last November, city officials implemented a new schedule for fire fighters and paramedics, switching from the years-long practice of 24 hours on and 72 hours off to 10-hour day shifts and two 14-hour night shifts, followed by four days off.

Knapp said the extra salary costs was not tied to the union contract.

“This is due to the increase in times we were out of ambulance crews in the offseason and the study that was done by the fire company to show that,” she said.

James asked if the addition of a full-time position would be cost beneficial.

“We get more shifts by adding the part-time shifts than we would by adding a full-time staff person,” Knapp said.

James noted the number of instances when ambulance crews were not available during the offseason tripled from 2016, when 20 calls were delayed, to 2017 when that occurred 60 times.

In those cases, James said a message is sent requesting available members assist.

“The staff’s availability is significantly decreased right now because they’re working four days instead of previously working two days and picking up extra shifts,” he said. “Giving our employees the ability to switch into a 24-hour [shift] in the short term would be an immediate solution to the decrease in service.”

James also questioned Fire Chief Chris Larmore about the number of unfilled staffing hours.

“The last I heard, there were 960 hours of unfilled staff time just in May and June,” he said.

Since making his departments’ budget presentation in mid-April, Larmore said that figure has been dramatically reduced.

“Three weeks prior to the budget hearing, there were 1,700 hours that were uncovered,” he said. “As of this morning, with mandatory overtime, we are down to 1,600 shifts [or] about 192 hours from now until July 1.”

The issue is largely solved and will not result in reductions to fire or ambulance service, Larmore said.

Looking ahead, James asked what future staffing changes Larmore feels would provide improved responsiveness.

“The conversion of three current part-time positions to full time [which] would put us at 47 full-time employees,” Larmore said.

Regardless of the shifts negotiated in the current union contract, James said offering shift flexibility would likely be well received by members.

“They have a contract, but I have a feeling if you told them they could switch into 24 [hours] they would probably be ok with it,” he said.

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