Ocean City Today

Fire Marshal recommends automating beach bonfire requests, council approves

In six years, requests have increased by 23 percent, bringing in $17K in revenue
By Katie Tabeling | Mar 30, 2017
File Photo

(March 31, 2017) The Ocean City Council has agreed to implement an internet-based program that would streamline processing permits for beach bonfires.

Fire Marshal David Hartley suggested during Tuesday’s work session that using an automated program to allow customers to buy the $75 permit online would be much like someone buying a fishing license from the state.

Currently, the application can be found online and can be emailed, faxed or taken to the fire marshal’s office to be processed.

“If we make this automated, we would have additional hours in the office for other projects like building permits or field work,” Hartley said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement.”

The current bonfire permit process involves several staff members across various departments before it’s approved. Once an application is submitted, the fire marshal’s office processes it and makes sure the date, time and location don’t conflict with city-approved events. Then the fire marshals inform the Beach Patrol, the Coast Guard, the fire department, and emergency dispatch so that they don’t think there’s a blaze on the beach that needs attention.

After that, the fire marshal’s office submits the permit fee to the purchasing department.

“If we make this automated, we could collect the permit fee and automatically provide information to the various agencies,” Hartley said. “It would also be a conduit to communicate with permittees about cancellations due to bad weather.”

He added that even though bonfires are not promoted online by the city, their popularity has swelled in the past few years through word-of-mouth. In 2016, there were 233 bonfires, a 23 percent increase from 2010.

“It’s going to trend no matter what we do. People rave about these and see it as something that creates memories,” Hartley said.

Although the fire marshal’s office has not started shopping for a web-based program, Hartley estimated the cost would be around $5,000. Since the permits processed last year brought in $17,475 in revenue, the price could easily be covered, he said.

“With this being automated, money and manpower will be saved, which I don’t consider in the $5,000,” Council Secretary Knight said. “I think this is going to be a moneymaker for you all.”

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