Significant mold damage has been found in all three Grand Cayman fire stations, Chief Fire Officer David Hails confirmed last week.
Mr. Hails’s comments came in response to questions asked in the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee about mold present in the West Bay Fire Station that one lawmaker claimed was “growing out of the air conditioning unit” inside the buildings.
“The situation with the mold at West Bay is inherent throughout all the fire stations, not only in West Bay,” Mr. Hails said. “At present, we’re carrying out a survey to determine how we’re going to tackle this problem.”
Mr. Hails said it appeared one of the problems was that air conditioning units had not been replaced since September 2004’s Hurricane Ivan at various locations. He said AC repair and potential replacement would be required at all locations throughout the fire service.
The Cayman Islands Fire Service operates three stations on Grand Cayman: one at the Owen Roberts International Airport, another on Frank Sound Road, North Side, and the third along West Bay Road in West Bay.
West Bay MLA Bernie Bush said the mold situation was another example of the fire service officers being “treated disgracefully.”
“That’s been for a long time,” Mr. Bush said.
A review of the Cayman Islands Fire Service, completed in early 2015 and which led to Mr. Hails being hired on a three-year contract, revealed that many rank-and-file firefighters felt like “outcasts” among Cayman’s other emergency services agencies.
“There is no question there is low morale amongst firefighters,” said Peter Holland, the U.K.’s chief fire and rescue adviser, who led a 2014-2015 review of the local fire service.
Mr. Holland spent several hours speaking with local fire crews about issues in the service after he and colleague David Norris were invited by government to review the fire service. One of the major issues identified was the lack of updated protective equipment for fire crews.
Eric Bush, who has oversight responsibility for the fire service as chief officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs, said senior government officials have been aware of certain problems in the fire service for some time and it was for that reason Messrs. Holland and Norris were asked to visit Cayman.
Mr. Bush said low morale and a high number of sick days among local fire crews were symptoms of the actual problems in the service. According to Internal Audit Unit reports, the government owed – as of 2014 – local firefighters between $500,000 and $1 million in back overtime and accrued vacation pay. This was largely due to understaffing problems forcing the service to fill vacant positions with officers on overtime.
The past due amounts have since been paid, Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Hails, the first non-Caymanian fire chief in the Cayman service’s history, arrived in February to assist in rebuilding the service. He told lawmakers that he’s reviewing the job description of every rank in the fire service at the moment, after which a recruiting process would begin to fill some of the vacant positions.