Two retired former chief fire officers are back on the job at the Cayman Islands Fire Service, seeking to repair a department left in tatters by understaffing and low morale.
The Cayman Islands Premier’s office confirmed Monday that former chiefs Roy Grant and Kirkland Nixon had been appointed: Mr. Grant as acting chief fire officer and Mr. Nixon as a strategic advisor. The two veteran firefighters’ appointments are for three months each.
Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush said issues surrounding “poor communication, command and control” would be a priority for the two men.
Rosworth McLaughlin, who has been acting fire chief for the past year, is on extended sick leave, according to the government. His deputy, Craig McCoy, is retiring shortly.
A permanent replacement for former fire chief Dennom Bodden has never been found since Mr. Bodden left the fire service in April 2003.
The Cayman Islands Fire Service has been under review since a January review found low morale and slack management practices within the service, leaving fire service crews often feeling like an outcast among the other local emergency service agencies.
“There is no question there is low morale amongst firefighters,” said Peter Holland, the U.K.’s chief fire and rescue adviser, who completed the review on the local fire service at the request of the Cayman Islands government.
Mr. Holland spent several hours speaking with local fire crews about issues in the service, after he and colleague David Norris were invited by government to conduct the review. One of the major issues identified was the lack of updated protective equipment for fire crews, Mr. Holland said.
“That’s a big factor as far as the firefighters are concerned,” he said.
According to 911 statistics from the 2012/13 government budget year, between July 2012 and June 2013, the Emergency Medical Services [ambulances] received 3,570 calls for service. The fire service received 867 calls for service during the same period.
Whether or not there is a fire call, crews still have to staff the stations. The fire service was making an average of just more than two calls per day during the previous budget year. The local ambulance service was making nearly 10 calls a day during the same period.
In addition, Mr. Holland noted that while both police and emergency medical crews were using Cayman’s advanced 911 Emergency Communications Centre to their advantage, the fire service had not done so, leaving crews feeling distanced from the action, so to speak.
Mr. Bush, who has oversight responsibility for the fire service as chief officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs, said senior government officials have been aware of certain problems in the fire service for some time and it was for that reason Mr. Holland was asked to visit Cayman.
He said low morale and a high number of sick days among local fire crews are symptoms of the actual problems in the service.
The Caymanian Compass reported this week that government owed local firefighters between $500,000 and $1 million in back overtime and accrued vacation pay. Mr. Bush said the government intends to make good on that this year but does not want to be paying the same amount next year.