Cayman on fire: Sound the alarm! … Bury the report

 The scathing review of the Cayman Islands Fire Service should have been treated by government officials as an “18-alarm” conflagration, one alarm for each of the recommendations put forth by England’s Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser Peter Holland. Instead, they tried to dump it into the nearest wastebasket, hoping it might spontaneously combust.

It didn’t.

The report was completed early last year but only released to the public recently, following an open records request from the Cayman Compass. After perusing the document, we’re not sure what is more alarming, its contents — which describe a fire service that is overstaffed, undertrained and, above all, poorly managed — or the government’s reaction to it — that is, ignore it and hide it.

Our commentary should not be interpreted as being critical of Cayman’s individual firefighters, who, along with our police officers and emergency medical technicians, have chosen vocations that demand courage and often require significant personal sacrifice in order to ensure the safety of the larger community.

We share the view of what our fire service “could” be, as described in the report and endorsed by Premier Alden McLaughlin and Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush, namely, “at the forefront of the development of the Islands [in] its rightful place as a premier public service.”

It appears, however, there are many miles yet to go. Focusing on actions directed at the management level, Mr. Holland, the senior U.K. firefighter (who performed his work “pro bono” and deserves our country’s gratitude), outlined 18 steps for Cayman’s fire service to take in his initial (!) report, including:
“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”

“introduce a training and development programme linked to a performance review, with clear expectations, guidelines and performance criteria for staff”
“transfer the call handling and incident support capability to the Department of Public Safety Communications”

“consider an increase in the number [of] inspecting officers” … and develop “a robust system for monitoring the progress of building code contravention reports.”

It is unclear at this time whether any of the recommendations have been implemented since the report was submitted in February 2014. Quite frankly, we doubt it.

The first reason for our skepticism is that no single person in the fire service has been in a position to make those changes. Since April 2013, the fire service has been without a permanent chief fire officer, following the retirement of Dennom Bodden. A recruitment process for a new, full-time fire chief last year ended without a successful candidate being hired. Another recruitment process is currently under way.

The second reason is the government’s reaction to the review, which we’ll describe as “stop, drop and roll”: Stop talking about it. Drop the subject. Roll the report into a paper ball. (If not for the Freedom of Information Law, we doubt the report would ever have become public.)

The problem goes far beyond dysfunction within the fire service. The entire situation — the invitation to an outside expert consultant, the resulting honest criticism, the cowering from the bad news that was delivered — is emblematic of how our government too often operates.

It is nothing short of shameful that this report was suppressed. Little children are inclined to hide things (like bad report cards) from their parents.
This is, indeed, a bad report card on our fire service. But it’s the government that deserves the F-minus — for its clumsy attempts to conceal it.


  1. Yeah,when you see photos of firefighters without protective gear extinguishing burning dump and CIFS official says they must have forgotten????? it (the gear), doesn’t it reveal a sorry state of affairs in CIFS?

  2. Firefighters, the police and ambulance service are true Cayman heroes.
    The people on the ground, the ones who respond to emergencies should have our every support.

    If that means less staff at the management level so be it.

    Sadly the fire service here is not alone. It appears that pretty much every government department around the world, whether it is the National Health Service in the UK or Public Schools in the USA have top heavy management.

  3. I would like to ask, why does the Compass Editorial Board_David and Vicky Legge-continue to be so disrespectful and antagonistic towards this Government.In this article the meanness starts from the first paragraph when you say this about Government officials " they tried to dump it into the nearest wastebasket, hoping it might spontaneously combust." I hope you are forced to prove this in court.In the very next paragraph you say that Governments reaction to the report was to ", ignore it and hide it."Again ,show your proof orretract.This trend continues to the last paragraph where you state " It is nothing short of shameful that this report was suppressed…This is, indeed, a bad report card on our fire service. But it’s the government that deserves the F-minus — for its clumsy attempts to conceal it." Again,where is the proof that anyone attempted to hide it? Never in the history of this newspaper have the Editors taken so negative a stance against the CI Government. Recent change of ownership appears to have been the beginning of this anti Government and some say anti Caymanian stance. I wish Government would stop publishing anything in the Compass until you straighten up,but I guess you would call that censorship,yet you censor comments all the time if they are not to your liking. PS Now I fully expect that you will refuse to publish this ,since it so critical of yourselves-I guess you are better at dishing out,rather than you are at receiving.

  4. Perhaps Mr Fishman could explain how a report directed at the Government with a number of key recommendations is a) not published, in a way any transparent government would/should do, and b) why there is absolutely no record of ANY of the recommendations being addressed.
    The responsibility for the oversight of any public service is enshrined in law. For the police it is the Governor, for the Fire Service it is the Government and the Home Affairs Department. Politicians cannot absolve themselves from their duty to ensure that the services within their remit offer value for money for the people who pay for them and, more importantly, offer a service that meets the needs of the community.
    Well done Compass for having the wisdom and courage to bring this to the attention of the public. Perhaps now we will see some action by the GOVERNMENT

  5. Just wondering what facilities the Fire Service have access to for maritime emergencies ?
    (I”m sure everyone remembers the Cruise Ship fire off Mexico and the recent one off Morocco)?

    Shipboard fires are the ultimate nightmare – they require specialist training and equipment, and while there have been several simulations at the airport, I can’t recall a cruise ship emergency exercise?

    Given the number of cruise ships and the importance of that industry, I hope that the guys on the front line have had, and continue to receive, appropriate training for that type of scenario, and that a ”Disaster Response Plan” exists.

  6. Good point Andy Gray! Also, any of the existing firefighters certified as First Medical Responder? Compass, can you please find out?

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