I am extremely proud, honoured and humbled to write this comment as the newly appointed Chief Fire Officer for the Cayman Islands Fire Service.
June 2022 is the first Interschutz for seven years and my first visit to Hannover. I am excited about my exposure and learning about the vast range of trucks, equipment, PPE and rapidly advancing technology aimed to support the brave men and women that form our worldwide fire and rescue service family.
As I reflect on my new Chief Fire Officer role, my focus for my June/July UK visit, and attendance at Interschutz must be ‘the changing world we live in’. I imagine all Chief Fire Officers across the world reflect and ask, are my front-line crew’s operational activities, competencies, PPE, vehicles and equipment the best they can be for the changing and diverse risk we face? The primary objective of all fire and rescue services is to save and protect life. As I reflect, I am drawn to the changing environment we live and operate in, the scale and volume of worldwide natural disasters as well as the devastating impact of global warming.
In 2004 as an operational Firefighter Hurricane Ivan hit the Cayman Islands on Sunday, 12 September where the eye of the storm passed within 15 miles of Grand Cayman. We faced sustained winds of 160mph with gusts recorded at 217mph. A storm surge of seawater 8–10ft with wave heights of 20–30ft submerged the Island. The impact socially and fiscally was devastating with one-quarter of buildings uninhabitable and 95% of buildings suffering some degree of damage, with an estimated cost of US$2.86 billion worth of damage.
Over the years I have reflected on how I felt responding to emergency calls for service and helping those in need in the face of such devastation. Whilst very proud to serve my communities in a time of dire need, to be honest, given the uncertainty of what we were facing as emergency responders there were situations where I felt somewhat unprepared, poorly equipped, undertrained and overwhelmed by the scale of both the response and recovery phases of this disaster.
In 2022 across the globe, fire and rescue services face an increased risk from natural disasters. Tropical storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, rising sea levels and storm surges, wildfires, Tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and complex building collapses. Whilst I do recognize these devastating major incidents always attract a multi-agency response, fire and rescue services have a key lead role to establish and deliver. Preparation and planning require specialist courses, multi-disciplined/functional officers, and a huge degree of flexibility within the modern firefighter’s role map.
I have witnessed significant improvements in incident command multi-agency training at Gold Command (Strategic) level. Subsequent to the strategic training being completed there is now a focus of having this learning replicated and practised at tactical (silver) and practical (Bronze) levels, in the Cayman Islands. I know that major incident multi-agency exercises are expensive and challenging to arrange and coordinate, but do we believe it is important for us as Chief Fire Officers to ensure this is done? Around the world are our search and rescue techniques practised, agency roles clearly defined to provide effective and coordinated incident command and operations?
Are our trucks, equipment, PPE, and operational tactics the best they can be for the changing risk we face? Are we confident that our trucks, equipment, and operational tactics aim to limit the environmental impact of firefighting and rescue across our wide field of operations? As we face more natural disasters it is incumbent for us as Chief Fire Officers to assess, understand and reduce the environmental impact from not only our buildings, trucks and equipment but our ways of working including front-line operations. I personally look forward to exploring and discussing the latest innovations to help me plan to reduce Cayman Islands Fire Service environmental footprint and equip my front-line colleagues with trucks, equipment and PPE to manage the risks effectively and efficiently across our three beautiful Cayman Islands.
As part of my transition to Chief Fire Officer I have learnt from my predecessor the importance of partner agency relationships. Are fire and Rescue services across the world leading, developing and improving multi-agency responses to major incidents? How often do you meet, socialise, exercise and work closely with colleagues from across emergency services, partner agencies and the voluntary sector? Is this replicated at every level of your organisation? Food for thought…
In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the organisers and exhibitors at Interschutz 2022. Your detailed and painstaking work developing new innovations, trucks and equipment to improve the safety and effectiveness of firefighters across the world is greatly appreciated! We must continue to work with you to adapt and improve our services, to improve the safety of our front-line colleagues and above all to protect and serve our communities across the globe. I look forward to meeting my fire and rescue family from across the world in Hannover and wish you all an enjoyable, informative and safe Interschutz 2022.