“The government’s Internal Audit Unit found in July 2016 that more than 69,000 hours paid in firefighter overtime during 2015, at a cost of nearly $1.7 million, is the equivalent of 33 full-time employees working 40 hours per week for the full year.”

– “Report: Firefighters battle staff shortages,” Cayman Compass

You read that correctly: In the year 2015, Cayman Islands firefighters racked up 69,000 hours of overtime.

The bill for all that overtime came to nearly $1.7 million, which is a 44 percent increase over the Cayman Islands Fire Service’s $1.1 million overtime bill in 2014.

(Meanwhile, we’ve learned – and report on Page 1 – that prison guards have been racking up about $1 million per year in overtime pay at the Immigration Detention Centre.)

Almost as bad as the fire service’s reliance on overtime is the explanation offered for it – that some firefighters have taken high numbers of sick days.

(As any chief financial officer of any company will tell you, consistent overtime in an organization is not unlike financial heroin: It quickly becomes an addiction, and employees soon become dependent on the extra income in their paychecks.)

We can’t help but also observe that the amount of firefighter overtime generated in 2015, which is equivalent to the cost of 33 full-time employees, isn’t too far off from the number of vacancies in the department – 39 positions.

Put another way, it seems that firefighters have been picking up the slack (and then some) for colleagues who aren’t showing up for work, or who haven’t been hired yet. That’s a kind way of appraising the situation.

A less kind way might be to question whether Cayman’s firefighters have been taking advantage of the “status quo” in order to engorge their bank accounts at the taxpayers’ expense.

According to the Internal Audit Unit report that revealed the figures for 2015, “The issue of severe staff shortages, including the negative impacts it can have on fire officers and those persons relying on them, has been noted in two [earlier] reports. However, we noted that no actions [have] been taken to address the findings presented in those reports [from 2011 and 2013].”

In May 2015, while firefighters were in the midst of racking up their $1.7 million overtime tab, the Compass unearthed (through an open records request) a 2014 review of Cayman’s Fire Service performed by England’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor Peter Holland.

As we described it in a news headline at the time, the Holland Report was “scathing.” Mr. Holland stated in his 22-page report, “This review discovered a pervading view that firefighters are ‘well paid to do nothing.’”

The Holland Report called for restructuring and downsizing the Fire Service, noting that “The level of demand for the fire service expressed in terms of fire calls and incidents attended is at consistently low levels.”

During government’s 2012/13 budget year, police responded to 25,901 calls, emergency medical services (ambulances) responded to 3,570 calls, and the fire service responded to 867 calls – fewer than three per day.

Accordingly, the Holland Report recommended, in addition to reducing their numbers, retraining and reassigning firefighters to neglected duties, such as building safety inspections.

Since the release of the Holland Report and the accumulation of overtime in 2015, the Fire Service has gotten a new leader, Chief Fire Officer David Hails, who started his three-year contract in February 2016.

Mr. Hails arrived with a sparkling professional background, including nearly 40 years of firefighting experience. When he took the job, he certainly knew the structural challenges that had been exposed by Mr. Holland’s review and other reports.

Now that Mr. Hails has been in Cayman for more than a year, a fair question is: What are his plans to remediate the dysfunctional department he inherited?


  1. I go back to my comment from the other day, lets try adding volunteer firefighter to our force. It works well in small communities in the USA. If we love our country, we should be ready to volunteer to help it out. I bet there are even expats who would volunteer.

    We continue to do the same things over and over again hoping for a different outcome. Lets try something new. Volunteers work in the UK and USA for search and rescue and firefighting. Lets try it here. Sign me up!

  2. I understand that he inherited a disfunctional department , but how many years are needed to make it functional ? Then what has been done about the shortage of Fire Fighters ? I know he must have big job dealing with a disfunctional department and a disfuctional Government too .

    But isn’t it dangerous to be working the firemen all those hours over 8 hours per day ? I think that safety of the Firemen needs to be looked at , because it sound like each of them is working at least 12 to 15 per day according to the overtime . We have to be careful sending the Firemen to fight fire’s tired , cause fire is dangerous.

  3. Fleecing the government again……………..keep digging, you will find it happening in most departments like prison, fire service and prison detention centers.
    Read that the prison service was short staffed. Early last year they were ready to take on a fleet. Plenty Caymanians applied who were qualified to fill these positions, however most of them never even got a reply back to applications. So was that a scam to later declare understaffed and needed to over time work those that were there, so as to rack up overtime pay? Cayman is not New York City where a fire truck is called out every five minutes. How many times do we see the fire Truck going out on an emergency call? So how can they rack up thousands of hours for overtime pay? People who run these departments, all of them must be held accountable for their actions.

  4. The “overtime” scheme requires creative thinking skills and deserves to be in the Guinness Book of Records. It surely beats the mastermind behind the armored car robbery.
    A math teacher might want to give his students an assignment to figure out “How many overtime hours 39 firefighters with fewer than three calls per day can possible generate in 1 year, while being employed by the Cayman Islands Fire Service?” The smartest kid would find an answer really quick- “As many as they want to.”

  5. Have the two Brac firemen incvolved in the rollover returned to work yet, and what about the driver involved in the collision in West Bay. Serious incidents but no accountability as usual as we still await the results of the enquiries.

  6. I have a friend in Florida who is a firefighter. He sleeps at the station when it is his shift and is ready to go at a moments notice.
    It can be dangerous work.

    But I cannot understand why we need so many firefighters.
    There are currently 3 stations in Grand Cayman, located in West Bay, George Town, and Frank Sound. There is 1 in Cayman Brac and 1 in Little Cayman.
    If there are under three call-outs per 24-hour day that would be less than one per fire station.

    A crew would consist of a driver, ladder man and third person. There are 168 hours in a week. Allowing a 40 hour week you would need 4 crews to give 24/7 coverage. That would be 12 firemen employed at each station to cover all the shifts.

    As there are 5 stations that would mean a total of 60 firemen. Who would spend most of their day doing nothing. Sleeping or watching TV. That is the nature of the job and not a criticism.

    How many are we actually employing?

    • What happened to the fire safety inspections? Commercial and residential alike. Lots of work, no time for “Sleeping or watching TV. “

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