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.