EDITORIAL – Fire service review: Shouldn’t Chief Hails be the ‘first responder?’

The Ministry of Home Affairs is hiring a local accounting firm to conduct another review of the Cayman Islands Fire Service, this time to examine the department’s “standard of operations” and “overall organizational structure.”

Logically, such an analysis would be led by someone with decades of experience in firefighting; with expertise in fire service training and operations; one who could bring an international perspective to our local department …. In other words, someone like Cayman’s Chief Fire Officer David Hails.

It was Chief Hails, after all, who was chosen for the top post after a scorching 2014 review by England’s Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor Peter Holland described a “top heavy” fire service with too many senior officers, no training and development plan for those officers, and no evidence that station officers had ever been properly trained.

Presumably, Chief Hails’s primary task would be to address those significant concerns about staffing, competencies, training and operations.

Now, some three years later, the Ministry of Home Affairs has asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to weigh in.

We mean no disrespect to PwC, but Chief Hails has more knowledge about fire service operations in his left pinky than can be found in any of Cayman’s accounting firms. When Chief Hails was hired, he already had 37 years of firefighting experience, including the last eight at the Serco International Fire Training Centre, where he trained many firefighters from Cayman.

Certainly, Chief Hails’s tenure in Cayman has not been flawless. (Who could forget the disastrous, expensive, and embarrassing fire truck rollover on Cayman Brac? But, after all, who could blame Chief Hails for that fiasco? If memory serves, he wasn’t the wheelman ….)

From our perspective, Chief Hails has performed well under sometimes difficult circumstances. On the scene of major emergencies, he is typically found on-site, leading from the front lines and available and willing to provide timely information to the media.

There are suggestions that some “disgruntled” fire service employees don’t like the direction the fire service is taking. The first non-Caymanian leader of Cayman’s fire service, Chief Hails has been challenged by some internal disputes, including communications claiming that a number of firefighters have chosen to leave the service.

If there really is unrest among the ranks, the cause very well might be higher standards and greater accountability. If that is the case, certain employees might be “self-selecting” themselves out of the fire service. We wish them well finding work in a less-demanding field. It should go without saying in our emergency services, public safety trumps hurt feelings or sour grapes.

Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers has said, “Our fire officers often work under dangerous conditions and risk their own lives to ensure the safety of others. This review gives those brave men and women a voice. We want to know what can be done to help all staff members perform at their best and how we can provide the agency with the support needed going forward in order to achieve this.”

Bringing on consultants may be wise when an issue demands specialized knowledge or expertise that one does not have on staff. That some staff may be “disgruntled” does not qualify as a reason.

If the Ministry of Home Affairs has concerns about the fire service, the first call should be to Chief Hails. Ask what resources he needs to do his job, and then provide them.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Cayman Compass Editor, very well said to the last word . I really thinks that Ms Rivers should put allot more confidence in Mr Hails 37 years experience . But what I think is important now is to hear from all of the Firefighters on if they are happy with the new direction of Fire Department under Mr Hails and what he has brought to the table for them .

    Ms Rivers should take in consideration that the Fire Chief 37 years experience could be a benefit to her and the Fire Department , but she must learn to stay of his back and let him say what is needed .
    And stop throwing away Taxpayers money on reviews with someone that doesn’t know or have any experience in what they are reviewing .

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  2. Excellent editorial.

    “too many senior officers, no training and development plan for those officers, and no evidence that station officers had ever been properly trained.” Can this be true? If so, this is incomprehensible.

    EVERYWHERE in the world fire officers often work under dangerous conditions and risk their own lives to ensure the safety of others. That is their career choice. That is what they are being paid for. I don’t see a need to glorify them.

    Fire Code enforcement is a critical element in the success of fire prevention programs.
    Are there control systems for fire code compliance? I think members of the public would like to know that. I think they would like to know when the Fuel Depot was last inspected and by whom and what conclusion has been reached. I think hotels guests would want to be assured that they are safe as regular inspections take place. That dilapidated houses that burn to the ground in seconds are condemned and its residents are relocated.
    That is where Home Affairs Minister should focus,
    NOT ON
    “..what can be done to help all staff members perform at their best and how we can provide the agency with the support needed going forward in order to achieve this.”

    To perform at my best I attend training. I seek more training. I practice my skills. I do what it takes to succeed. I don’t demand for an agency what would support me.

    Frankly, and with all due respect, the Minister’s statement is so grotesque that it defies common sense. She makes a misleading and erroneous argument here.

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  3. I have just heard there are no Fire codes in the Cayman Islands, let alone Fire codes enforcement. Could this be true?
    I found “SELF INSPECTION CHECKLIST, The purpose of this document is to aid the property/business owner or operator with guidance to applicable requirements for fire safety inspections”. Is it optional or mandatory?

    There is also TOURIST ACCOMMODATION INSPECTION GUIDELINES &
    REGULATIONS, CHAPTER 3 – Cayman Islands Fire Service Guidelines.

    So if I am to ask any hotel manager for the latest fire safety inspection report it will be available? What about other public and private buildings such as daycare and elder-care centers, foster homes, hospitals, university buildings?
    Where one finds annual reports regarding findings in conducting inspections?

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