Cayman Islands Chief Fire Officer David Hails is under contract for just one more year, and five of the six senior officers directly reporting to him are currently “acting” – not permanently appointed – in those jobs. The situation has led to significant uncertainty in the Cayman Islands Fire Service, according to a report released Wednesday.
An organizational review done by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers also notes continued job vacancies among lower ranks of the fire service as younger officers are promoted. There is a measure of discontent among those employees over uncompetitive pay and lack of advancement opportunities, the study found.
The reviewers at PwC received comment from about 60 percent of the fire service staff before producing their report.
“The purpose [of the acting roles] currently seems to enable the avoidance of filling vacant roles on a permanent basis and has resulted in uncertainty in the department,” the PwC report states. “The vacancies caused at the lower levels due to staff being hired into higher positions should be filled by recruiting staff at firefighter and new recruit levels.”
Chief Hails said Wednesday during a press conference that the fire service paid about $2 million last year to bring staff in on overtime to cover work shifts, despite recently recruiting a cadet class of 17 Caymanian officers.
The PwC report states there are now 31 vacancies in the fire service. “A number of these vacancies are key positions, imperative to the smooth operation of the service,” according to the review.
Mr. Hails also confirmed that the service still has some significant operational challenges, including a need to “repair and upgrade” fire stations and to address difficulty with fire crews being able to communicate with the 911 Emergency Centre.
Ministry of Home Affairs Deputy Chief Officer Kathryn Dinspell-Powell said Wednesday that five fire officers have been trained at the 911 call center and that within the next few months, the service should have the ability to dispatch emergency calls directly from 911. Right now, calls from 911 are routed to the Owen Roberts International Airport fire station, which then sends fire crews to the scene – leading to potential difficulties in interagency communications during emergency responses.
The report recommended that the fire service transition to U.K. National Operating Standard for its “domestic” [non-airport related] fire operations. The U.K. standard, which sets guidelines for officer training, is already in use at Cayman’s airports.
Ministry Chief Officer Dax Basdeo said the PwC report provides a blueprint for the way forward in the fire service, stressing the need for better focus on human resources and training.
“The lack of a [succession planning] strategy is one of the factors inhibiting the current vacancies from being filled,” the PwC report states. “This will clearly be compounded as the aging workforce issue also comes to fruition.”
Mr. Basdeo said the government’s 2018-2019 budget plan should provide the fire service the resources it needs to improve fire stations and equipment, although it does not envision the construction of any new fire stations.
The PwC report suggests that some more minor maintenance at the stations might assist with both operations and firefighter working conditions.
“At the main fire station in George Town, fixes such as fresh paint, provision of better facilities in the kitchen, new furniture in the lunch room … would impact the morale of the fire service employees and start restoring faith in management engagement,” the report states.
Internally, firefighters listed pay scales, favoritism in promotion and a large number of “acting” roles in the department as their most prominent concerns going forward.
Outside the department, concerns were more focused on aging or substandard firefighting equipment and a lack of “soft skills” training “including grammar and communications at managerial level.”