Chief Fire Officer David Hails presented a stark choice to the 17 new firefighters at a graduation ceremony on Friday when he asked them to consider what they will one day tell their grandchildren about how they spent their career.
“It could be answer one, which would be: ‘Well, I was a fire officer, and I sat at work in front of the TV all day, and I moaned and bitched about how bad things were, and how the Fire Service did nothing for me,’” said Mr. Hails. “Or you could say answer two: ‘When I was a fire officer, I was one of the team of dedicated fire officers who helped shape the Fire Service into the world-class organization it is today.’”
Though the fire chief said his department is a “long way” from being world-class, he’s counting on his first class of graduates to make the latter choice.
That is why he put them through a rigorous course, the curriculum of which included how to use the department’s equipment, how to administer first-aid, and how to fight all types of fires – including aviation fires, a skill that Mr. Hails brought in experts from the U.K.-based International Fire Training Center to teach.
The course was the first for new recruits since the Ministry of Home Affairs released a scathing review of the Cayman Islands Fire Service in 2015, finding that the training of officers was severely deficient. The Fire Service is currently undergoing another review by PwC, which is looking at the department’s “organizational structure,” according to Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers.
Ms. Rivers told the Cayman Compass that the review was supposed to have been conducted several years ago She decided to commission it when she was assigned responsibility over the Fire Service. The results will likely be released around the time government presents its two-year budget in October.
The minister also spoke during the graduation ceremony, telling the new officers that it’s her goal to remove the “obstacles” facing the department “in order to create a more efficient, a more effective, and a more overall pleasant experience for those involved at the Fire Service.”
She declined to elaborate on what those obstacles are. “Stay tuned until the budget discussions,” she said.
Mr. Hails also declined to comment on what Ms. Rivers may have been referring to. “You’d have to ask her that” he said.
The chief officer did address reports from recent weeks about internal communications sent to fire service staff members from departing officers, who expressed some concerns and said a number of firefighters have chosen to leave the service.
When asked about this, Mr. Hails replied that five officers have transferred to the Department of Public Safety Communications. When asked why those officers transferred, Mr. Hails said, “You’ll have to ask them.”
Despite whatever internal issues the Fire Service might be dealing with, Friday’s ceremony was marked by the high spirits of the graduating officers and their families, who whooped and hollered in jubilation when their graduates’ names were called.
“It was a lot of trials for him to get there, but it was worth it for him,” said Diane Welds, the mother of graduate Kody Welds, who was joined on stage by his cousin, Luke Welds.
The Welds family now has four firefighters, according to Ms. Welds.
“Maybe they have that in their blood to help others,” she said.
Several awards were handed out to graduates. Leroy Brown and Pablo Brito-Ebanks received the Training Officer Leadership Award; Roberto Lopez-Valenzuela and Ameilia Gillispie – the cohort’s lone female officer – received the Outstanding Improvement Award; Aliston Scott received the Deputy Chief Fire Officer’s Academic Award; and Stefan McLaughlin received the Chief Fire Officer’s Top Rung Award.