Calls for a new fire station somewhere in the Bodden Town area are being heard again nearly a decade after a similar idea was proposed and then shelved due to lack of government funding.
The consultant’s report completed on the Cayman Islands Fire Service last year was largely critical of department calls for additional staff and resources, but it did suggest that a significant section of Grand Cayman was being left short of fire and emergency medical coverage under the current fire service operation scheme.
“The review team supports the development of a new fire station in the Bodden Town area to provide improved community service to the south and east of Grand Cayman,” Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser for England, Peter Holland, wrote in his report for the Cayman Islands Ministry of Home Affairs.
According to estimates recently completed by the government Economics and Statistics Office, Bodden Town has significantly outpaced West Bay to become the Cayman Islands’ second–largest district by population. Also, Elections Office and Electoral Boundary Commission reviews have noted the three fastest-growing areas of Grand Cayman in terms of voters are Prospect, Newlands and Savannah. Two of those areas are in Bodden Town district.
Now, the fire service maintains three stations, one in West Bay, one in Frank Sound and its headquarters at the Owen Roberts International Airport in George Town. The airport fire station provides domestic [land-based] and aerodrome [airport] fire services.
Situations have arisen in the past, particularly in the area of emergency medical responses, when emergency crews in George Town and West Bay have been called away, leaving the remote Frank Sound station to cover any additional emergencies that might arise.
The problem with the new fire station proposal, and the one made by the former People’s Progressive Movement government in 2007, is money.
In 2007, the Bodden Town Emergency Centre was designed and even had some landscaping work done prior to the 2009 general election and the then-United Democratic Party government dropping the idea. The $15 million plan for a combined police, fire and medical response facility also included, at one time, a landing pad for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Helicopter and a firearms practice range for law enforcement officers.
The new fire station suggested in the report contained no such grandiose ideas, and in fact, recommended the new station with no proposed funding increase to the fire service.
“[The money for construction] could be provided by savings generated by the introduction of alternative duty systems at other stations and alternative appliance types [referring to fire trucks] for the domestic [fire] service going forward,” Mr. Holland said. “Any new fire station development would not need to be staffed using a ‘whole time’ duty system.”
Overstaffing in the fire service was a major issue identified by a U.K. review team who visited Cayman in late 2013. 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.
Statistics produced by the 911 Emergency Communications Centre have revealed that the fire service, on average, was responding to fewer than three calls per day during the 2012/13 budget year.
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 addition, the report recommended downsizing some of the heavy trucks used by the fire service. For instance, the large ladder trucks used by the fire service – while undoubtedly top of line, Mr. Holland said – are often too large to quickly navigate the narrow side streets in some Grand Cayman neighborhoods. Also, there are relatively few locations where local structures reach three stories, the report noted – mainly just in central George Town and along Seven Mile Beach.