During a visit to the Cayman Islands I was invited to meet the Islands’ Fire Service staff by the Interim Chief Fire Officer Paul Walker and given free access to learn about the Service’s ambitious plans and aspirations. In this article I interview members of the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) to learn about the operations, challenges, opportunities and future plans for the unique Caribbean islands service.
The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory that comprises Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman and is situated in the Western Caribbean Sea just South of Cuba and Northwest of Honduras. As a group of three islands, the Caymans have a land mass of 264 square kilometres. The stunning coastline totals 160 kilometres and the islands have just under 28,000 homes for a resident population of over 65,000 people.
As a highly popular Caribbean tourist destination, the Cayman Islands welcome over 2.3 million visitors each year. The islands host daily visitors from an average of 5 cruise ships 7 days a week. In addition, the islands attract regular flights to airports on all three islands conveying holidaymakers and other visitors from all over the world.
The Cayman Islands Fire Service (CIFS) is responsible for the provision of fire and rescue services including the domestic and aviation response capability across the three islands.
Paul Walker QFSM, MA, FIFireE, was appointed as the Interim Chief Fire Officer (CFO) to the Cayman Islands in September 2019. Formerly the CFO of Cornwall FRS, Paul also served in London Fire Brigade and Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service as well as a secondment to work for the UK Government on operational and organisational assurance for fire and rescue services. In addition, CFO Walker was the International Lead for the UK National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC).
As well as leading the CIFS, Paul Walker’s remit as CFO includes a commitment to oversee and deliver the development of the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) in order to deliver a succession plan that includes the appointment of his successor as the substantive CFO for the islands.
The strategic leadership team for the CIFS consists of the CFO and three DCFO’s. The collective team manages the strategic direction of the Service with each DCFO taking a lead for specific references.
At CFO Walker’s request, this article is written following a one to one interview with each of the three Deputy Chief Fire Officers (DCFO) to reflect their views, experiences and aspirations.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Tina Marie Ebanks
DCFO Tina Marie Ebanks leads the Administration reference which delivers the Services Fire Prevention, Training, Fleet Engineering, Human Resource, Finance and Payroll services. The wide range of Services DCFO Ebanks leads are key to supporting and delivering the goals and aspirations of CIFS and she demonstrates a clear understanding of the task in hand. DCFO Ebanks said; “I am in a privileged position to be a leader in CIFS at this time. We are a good Service with the opportunity, drive and desire to become the best in the Caribbean and to meet the Governors goal of being a World-Class Civil Service”
DCFO Ebanks described some of the specific areas that are undergoing change at this time, she said:
“Plans for the development of commercial and residential properties on Grand Cayman are based on designs and specifications that will deliver high quality, safe environments for people to live, work and visit. CIFS have a critical role in ensuring the standards required are delivered. To do this we must have staff with the right technical and communications skills. CIFS have a history of delivering good quality fire prevention services and we have to rise to the challenge of current and future needs. Our plans for developing class leaders in fire prevention through our Fire Marshals will ensure CIFS plays a key role in the future safety and prosperity of the Cayman Islands.
“The CIFS Training Department are also undergoing positive change with plans in place following a detailed review, DCFO Ebanks said “In order to be recognised as World Class Leaders we aspire to be we have to ensure we deliver high quality training. Having accredited trainers delivering recognised qualifications is essential to having a qualified and professional workforce.”
DCFO Ebanks has overseen a staffing review undertaken against a background of high levels of overtime required to maintain minimum levels of staffing on long established shift patterns. The outcomes of the review have led to an agreement to a change in crewing systems and an increase in staffing levels. A recruitment and training programme delivered by CIFS has seen 21 newly qualified Firefighters join fire stations across the three islands reducing the reliance on overtime and delivering enhanced safe systems of work.
Under DCFO Ebanks leadership, changes to Fleet Engineering will ensure the ongoing provision, maintenance and resilience of equipment to meet the needs of the service now and in the future. The teams in the Human Resource, Finance and Payroll services are modernising systems and approaches to take advantage of new technology and to create a wider organisational understanding of both the CIFS and Cayman Islands Civil Service functions, again in support of the goal to become a World-Class Civil Service.
Speaking about her role, the interim CFO and her experience in the Cayman Islands, DCFO Ebanks said:
“There is definitely a sense of positive change sweeping through our Service. CFO Walkers open approach and experience has brought about positive change. His fresh perspective has created an environment where the team has experienced a greater sense of engagement and empowerment. This has been vital in helping the team to deliver the changes necessary to achieve, enhance and maintain the standards we know the CIFS is capable of delivering to support our islands population and Government”.
DCFO Ebanks demonstrated a clear understanding of the importance of the references she leads and the way in which these integrate with those of her colleagues. She said:
“As a leadership team we have already come a long way in a short time. Working together and engaging with our managers and the wider workforce has meant we have made a good start on our journey to make CIFS a world class Fire and Rescue Service in a world class Civil Service”.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Brevan Elliott
DCFO Brevan Elliott leads the CIFS Aviation Rescue and Firefighting Services (RFFS) reference with responsibility for ensuring the Service meets the Civil Aviation Authority standards and the service level agreement through the provision of the RFFS, consisting of competent Firefighters, appropriate firefighting vehicles, specialist training and associated infrastructure.
DCFO Elliott has responsibility for the provision of rescue and firefighting coverage at the Owen Roberts international airport on Grand Cayman as well as the airports on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. With the need to provide capabilities ranging from Category 4 provision up to Category 9 serving large aircraft, CIFS meets the challenges of airport rescue and firefighting coverage through multi-skilled specialized crews trained in both aviation and domestic Firefighting.
The combined airport and domestic fire station on Grand Cayman is a physical example of the seamless integration of the two operational response capabilities. The Cayman Islands is the only country in the Caribbean that offers such a high level of integrated rescue and firefighting service out of one fire house. Its unique design and approach towards firefighting sets apart from all other fire services within the hemisphere. The station intelligently incorporates the high level of security required between the airside and landside operations of an international airport.
DCFO Elliott is a seasoned member of the CIFS with ambition to see the Service recognised to be setting the standard for the Caribbean moving forward. He is positive about the changes the CIFS is making under CFO Walkers leadership describing how the Service has unified aviation and domestic fire and rescue and its progression towards becoming an accredited professional Service.
DCFO Elliott also recognises how CIFS can assist in developing the Cayman Islands and creating the World Class Civil Service that the Islands Governor is seeking. Speaking about the ongoing development of the International Airport which is clearly visible from his office window in the CIFS Headquarters on the perimeter of the airport, DCFO Elliott explained that the expansion plans involve the loss of the current aviation fire training facility. Through discussions with CFO Walker, the DCFO describes the opportunities the development of a new training facility creates.
He said: “In order to meet the future demands and needs of air travel to and from the Cayman Islands the Airport is investing in expansion. We are proud of the role our Firefighters play in ensuring the safety of the islands and its visitors. Our unique approach to upgrading cover arrangements to meet the requirements of a Category 9 airport on specific days is already an example of how CIFS supports the wider needs of the islands.”
The loss of the current aviation training facility through the airport expansion will result in the provision of a replacement facility.
DCFO Elliott said: “The need to develop a new training facility presents CIFS with an opportunity to create a state of the art training centre capable of serving as a Caribbean hub to deliver the best training for our region”.
DCFO Elliott is optimistic about the future of CIFS and his role in its SLT. DCFO Elliott described positive changes brought about by the interim CFO including the breaking down and removal of “unseen traditional barriers to create a working environment that fully involves the wider strategic team and extends to engage with staff across the whole Service”. He explained how a change in organisational culture had opened up opportunities for progression and how access to qualifications and personal development for staff at all levels would ensure that CIFS demonstrates its professional status and credibility.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Roy Charlton
DCFO Roy Charlton leads the CIFS Domestic Firefighting reference with responsibility for domestic fire and rescue response, integrated risk management planning (IRMP), risk-based evidence profiling (RBEP) and the introduction of the Institution of Fire Engineers (IFE) professional framework.
DCFO Charlton’s references are, like the rest of the CIFS, going through transformational change. The development of the Services IRMP and RBEP are setting the agenda for the future provision and needs of the Service. Understanding the current and future risks and then matching the appropriate resources to prevent, mitigate and respond to those risks in a calculated way are contributing to a greater understanding and appreciation of the Services role in supporting the future opportunities and safety for the islands, its inhabitants and businesses.
DCFO Charlton was keen to share some of the positive changes he has experienced since the interim CFO took up his position. He said:
“In my experience CIFS always aimed to deliver the best service it could. The arrival of CFO Walker has enabled the team to draw on his wide experience and to explore opportunities we might not otherwise have considered. As a management team we are encouraged to express our own views and ideas. Importantly we are also encouraged to constructively challenge ideas and assumptions that we do not understand or agree with in a positive and supportive environment. The result is that as a management team we are able to genuinely speak with one voice, something that has made us a strong and united team”. DCO Charlton described how this approach has been further adopted across the wider service to create a workforce that feels “engaged and involved”.
DCFO Charlton also discussed other examples of the SLT’s influence in unifying the three islands that make up Grand Cayman. He explained:
“There was always a desire to ensure the staff on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were fully engaged in the Services business and decisions. On reflection, an over reliance on written communication probably created an unintentional distance between managers and staff through the absence of personal interaction and the value that brings. CFO Walker has introduced minimum quarterly visits to off islands by members of the SLT which have proven incredibly beneficial in ensuring the consistent communication of managerial decisions and organisational changes to ensure understanding and gain the commitment of all staff”.
In support of the organisation’s professional development and accreditation, CIFS have selected the Institution of Fire Engineers to create its professional framework. Through the guidance of CFO Walker, himself a Fellow of the IFE, SLT met with IFE leaders from the UK and USA and the Service now holds Corporate Membership of the Institution. This provides opportunities for CIFS as an organisation and individual members of staff to work for and achieve IFE accreditation and qualifications. DCFO Charlton is the strategic lead with responsibility for implementing the framework.
DCFO Charlton holds similar aspirations to the rest of SLT, which is no surprise given the cohesive team they presented during the interviews I held. He described his desire to see CIFS as a “world class fire and rescue service with the top firehouses in the Caribbean”.
A Future of Opportunities
During a relatively short time in CIFS I experienced a clear and positive sense of an organisation that knows where it needs to go along with a clear path to achievement and a genuine desire to be a World Class Fire and Rescue Service.
For more information, go to www.cifs.gov.ky