When it comes to firefighting and emergency services in general, response times are of the utmost importance. By that standard, the Cayman Islands government’s response to the rollover accident involving a fire engine at Cayman Brac’s airport has been woefully inadequate.
On Friday morning, an Oshkosh T-3000 model fire engine rolled during a monthly speed test on the Brac airport runway, injuring two firemen, putting the vehicle out of commission (perhaps permanently) and closing the Brac airport to jet traffic until a time that has yet to be determined.
We admit, when we first broke the news that “someone wrecked a fire truck during a ‘mandatory speed test’ at the Brac airport,” the initial reaction from many people we told was to laugh at the “small-town hijinks.”
Well, we’re not laughing. This is a serious issue deserving a serious response from the government – not only because two people suffered injuries requiring airlift and hospitalization, but because this accident could turn out to be very expensive for taxpayers, perhaps approaching $1 million or more after accounting for the cost of the fire engine and the economic losses from shutting down the Brac airport.
More than four days after the accident, as of our press deadline Tuesday, we still have not learned from officials such basic information as the names of the firemen involved, how long it will take to secure a replacement vehicle or fix the wrecked one, the rough speed of the vehicle when the accident occurred, the suspected cause of the accident, or, most importantly, how much this is expected to cost the Treasury when all is said and done.
We will qualify our remarks somewhat by recognizing that the Government Information Services spokeswoman corresponding with our reporter on the issue has been helpful, prompt and diligent in her efforts to pass on the bits of information as she receives them. Our concern is not with any individual staff member, but with the overall approach of higher-level officials.
An effective public relations response to this situation shouldn’t require much effort or creative thinking. It should be a routine procedure or matter of protocol. Much like how the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service reacted in the wake of Friday’s fatal shooting of a suspect, officials could have swiftly dealt with the wreck of the fire engine by calling a press conference, openly answering questions from journalists and, in brief, attempting to tell the world everything (within reason) they know about the event at the present time.
Officials ought not to couch their response in broad and generally meaningless phrases like, “An investigation as to how this happened is under way in earnest.” Instead, someone should ask the driver or the passenger what happened, and relay the information accordingly. It’s a simple exercise, not one that requires bureaucratic and nontransparent obfuscation.
We don’t know if it’s purposeful or if the lack of information is related to the geographic separation the Brac enjoys from Grand Cayman. (We do know, however, that even compared to the government’s typical inclination to keep unflattering information under wraps, officials are particularly non-talkative about issues on the Brac, for example regarding waste management problems, last year’s arrest of a Brac customs officer, or … lest anyone forgets … the apparently permanent secondment of Grand Cayman’s paving machine to its dear, but relatively unpopulated, Sister Island.)
Officials should be aware that in matters concerning the public purse, what happens on the Brac does not stay on the Brac. The people inhabiting the larger land mass – namely Grand Cayman – will eventually be expected to pay the bill.