For the first time since the Cayman Islands Fire Service was created, a non-Caymanian has been appointed to lead the department.
David Hails was introduced Monday during an afternoon meeting to local firefighters as the department’s new chief fire officer. He told those assembled he was “delighted” to be in Cayman.
He will begin his three-year contract in the role on Feb. 1, 2016.
Mr. Hails left his position at the Serco International Fire Training Centre in the U.K. earlier this year after eight years of service there. Prior to that, he worked as a fire officer at the U.K. Ministry of Defense. He has 37 years of experience in the firefighting profession, and Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush said the government was pleased to have someone of Mr. Hails’s caliber in the post.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson said Monday that the ministry had made every effort to appoint a Caymanian for the role.
“We have been striving for almost two years to recruit a suitable person as fire chief. I have been adamant that we should endeavor to appoint a Caymanian and I am fully aware of the means taken by the ministry to do so,” said Premier Alden McLaughlin. “Unfortunately, that has not been possible at this time, which I find most disappointing.
“I am satisfied, however, that someone of Mr. Hails’s caliber and experience will provide the required leadership of the fire service at this point. I believe that his recruitment will enable the future training and up-skilling of Caymanian fire officers and that before long there will be a cadre of Caymanian officers capable of assuming the helm of this essential service.”
Mr. Hails said Monday, “I am committed to developing the Cayman Islands Fire Service into an organization that the citizens and the government of the Cayman Islands can be proud of.”
Mr. Hails’s appointment comes after a scathing review of the local fire service was released to the Cayman Compass earlier this year.
That review uncovered major staffing, operational and training deficiencies within the fire service, documented in a report issued last year, but which had been kept under wraps until a Cayman Compass open records request forced government to produce it.
The review 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.
Premier McLaughlin said in June that he would not support the hiring of a non-Caymanian fire chief, during a debate in the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee.
“I don’t know what the result of this process is going to be … but don’t ask me to endorse the appointment of a non-Caymanian chief fire officer because that I will not do,” Mr. McLaughlin said during the debate, acknowledging that the elected ministers have ostensibly no role in civil service hiring.
“We have had a Caymanian chief fire officer since the establishment of the fire service in 1956. It would be a retrograde step of the highest magnitude for us, in 2015, to say that we have to recruit a chief fire officer who is not Caymanian.”
There were significant problems recruiting a full-time, permanent fire chief since Dennom Bodden left the post two-and-a-half years ago.
Since then, various acting chiefs have been placed in that role, including Rosworth McLaughlin, Roy Grant and current chief fire officer John Bodden. Rosworth McLaughlin ended up suing the department, while Mr. John Bodden was arrested in connection with a January hit-and-run accident. Mr. Grant, who had already retired from the service, was brought in to fill the leadership gap on a part-time basis only.
The government tried to hire a full-time chief last year but was unable to do so following a recruitment process. A second hiring process led to the recruitment of Mr. Hails.