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.