Major staffing, operational and training deficiencies within the Cayman Islands Fire Service were exposed in a report issued last year which has since been kept under wraps until a Cayman Compass open records request forced government to produce it.
The review, done by England’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor Peter Holland at the request of the Cayman Islands Ministry of Home Affairs, questioned basic competencies of fire service officers and management, leading to observations that the department is overstaffed to meet the Cayman community’s firefighting needs. Meanwhile, key areas such as building safety inspections and emergency medical services have gone begging for resources.
“This review discovered a pervading view that firefighters are ‘well paid to do nothing,’” Mr. Holland stated in his 22-page report. The senior U.K. firefighter said, on a more positive note, that Cayman Islands Fire Service staff members wanted to improve both in their own professional development and to better assist local communities, but were being held up by an often ineffective management regime.
“Improvements and recommendations detailed in this report are unlikely to be implemented successfully unless there is a significant improvement in the performance of the management team,” Mr. Holland said.
A recruitment process for a new, full-time chief fire officer last year ended without a successful candidate being hired. A second recruitment process is currently under way.
The number of calls received for fire emergencies in the Cayman Islands “do not support the current crewing model of 24/7 staffing on Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac,” the consultant review found.
Emergency Communications Centre  statistics for the government’s 2012/13 budget year (the last full year for which those stats were available) revealed that the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service responded to 25,901 calls during the year, the emergency medical services [ambulance] responded to 3,570 calls and the fire service responded to 867 calls for the year.
That means the fire service received, on average, fewer than three calls per day.
“The level of demand for the fire service expressed in terms of fire calls and incidents attended is at consistently low levels,” the report stated. “The review team recommends restructuring of the fire service to reduce the numbers in the establishment at each rank, from deputy chief fire officer down to and including station officer.”
Mr. Holland described a fire service that was “top-heavy with senior officers,” while, in the meantime, local ambulance crews – of which there are three to cover all of Grand Cayman – were responding to nearly 10 calls for service per day.
The report recommended the introduction of “alternative duty systems” for firefighting staff, potentially to include on-call services and perhaps a volunteer element to the fire service. It also advocated for fire service crews to support emergency medical care in the islands.
In order to provide those services, and others that the community requires, significant training must be provided. However, Mr. Holland’s 2014 review of the fire service found that it wasn’t.
An operational training program had been developed for station officers, but it was never implemented, the report found.
“This presents a significant concern to the review team,” Mr. Holland stated. “Operational crews are presented as available for operational duties, but their operational competence could not be confirmed.”
For instance, a personal fitness program developed for staff members was apparently “rejected” by crews, according to the report. “It was explained to the review team that operational crews felt they could not undertake training exercises as they may ‘get a call’ and that response times would therefore be compromised.”
In addition, there was no evidence found of a training and development plan for senior fire officers.
Particularly in the area of aerodrome [airport] fire services, the lack of training was noted as a potential problem to Cayman’s continued economic development, as well as for public safety. “There are low numbers of calls and low levels of training and activity being undertaken,” the review found.
Mr. Holland was informed during a meeting with the Cayman Islands Airports Authority that the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office had been briefed on airport fire services and indicated they “were impressed.”
“The review team have not been able to substantiate this claim,” he said.
One area where greater fire service staffing was needed, according to the consultant’s review, was in building and safety inspections.
Cayman has considerably more than 500 liquor stores, hotels and medical establishments and “any number of schools and day care establishments which would need an inspection regime.” The fire service’s stated goal is to inspect each hotel once per year.
“This can clearly not be achieved by one inspecting officer,” Mr. Holland said, recommending that three would likely be required for the task. During its review, the U.K. inspection team came across “suggestions” that some reports on the newer structures and hotel refurbishments undertaken had been critical of fire safety measures. This was of concern to the reviewers, but they had no remit to investigate further.
“Threats to standards of hotels, which may compromise the safety of tourists, are of serious concern to the government of the islands,” Mr. Holland said, urging the government to investigate these claims further.
Meanwhile, the review found no evidence of a “systematic, risk-prioritized and planned” inspection program for liquor stores and nightclubs, although firefighters from local stations do assist the fire inspector with this task from time to time.
Emergency calls to the Cayman Islands Fire Service were being unacceptably delayed by the department’s systems for handling calls, Mr. Holland’s review team found.
When a 911 call for fire service is received by the 911 center, it is passed to the fire service control room at the airport fire station. The call is logged by hand and then the nearest fire station is mobilized to answer the call.
For some reason, the fire service does not use the 911 computer aided dispatch system, as do the local police and ambulance services.
“This is not only inefficient, but also results in an unacceptable delay in processing an emergency call,” Mr. Holland said. “There is also the possibility of inaccuracies being introduced as information taken from the primary source is indirectly passed to operational crews.”