Some of the “significant uncertainty” referred to in a recent consultant study of the Cayman Islands Fire Service was on display during the Legislative Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee hearings over the past two weeks, as committee members reviewed the findings from the $80,000 report.
The report done by PricewaterhouseCoopers noted that five of the six senior fire officers directly reporting to Chief Fire Officer David Hails were “acting” in those roles as of February.
Meanwhile, the consulting firm noted job vacancies among the lower fire service ranks had grown as younger officers were promoted. A number of those officers told consultants during interviews that they were disappointed over low pay and lack of advancement.
During a May 3 appearance before the accounts committee, Chief Hails noted the Ministry of Home Affairs had commissioned the consultant’s report, not the fire service.
“How will the recommendations, if that is part of the consultancy, be implemented?” Public Accounts Committee Chairman Ezzard Miller asked.
“I can’t really answer that question … it’s [the ministry’s] report and they’re making the decision on it,” Mr. Hails replied.
“That’s concerning,” Mr. Miller said. “If you’re the chief fire officer, I would like to suggest that the expertise to know what kind of jobs you need and what the competencies are for those jobs … rest with you and the fire service, not the ministry.”
Mr. Hails said the competencies [training and job qualification requirements] were provided by him to the ministry; however, the ministry was completing job descriptions for the new hires which he had not seen yet.
“The shortfall has been that there’s been no promotion into slots that have been held vacant for a very long time,” Mr. Hails said. “For some personnel … the jumps that are going to have to be made into those positions are quite high.”
The PwC report stated that, in February, there were 31 vacancies within the Cayman Islands Fire Service and that a number of those were in key positions.
Ministry Chief Officer Dax Basdeo said at the time the PwC report was released that it provided 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.”
During a May 10 appearance before the Public Accounts Committee, Mr. Basdeo said he understood the frustrations experienced among the fire service rank-and-file and promised the ministry was “going as fast as we can” to resolve issues with hiring and promotion.
Public Accounts Committee member, Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders said many firefighters he had spoken with simply did not trust the ministry after not being paid the full amount of the overtime they said they were owed. “For some of those guys, it was personal,” Mr. Saunders said.
Other committee members, like West Bay North MLA Bernie Bush, noted their concerns with some of those now being chosen to fill senior management roles in the fire service. “There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind … that there have been people who have been hired who are not qualified,” Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Basdeo said his approach would be to simply hire and promote the best candidates available.