(CMR) Senior staff at the Cayman Islands Fire Service (CIFS) are being subjected to a full investigation after the Cayman Islands Civil Aviation Authority (CIAA) discovered a number of irregularities and falsification of documents involving an aircraft carrying over 200 passengers.
The CIFS has a contractually arrangement with the CIAA to provide them with fire rescue services in accordance with their aerodrome certificate. Before an airplane lands the necessary personnel must be on duty to accommodate any emergencies with that aircraft. In the event that the landing is unscheduled two hours’ notice should be given to the fire service so that steps could be taken to ensure full compliance.
Any breaches of their strict obligation could put the fire service at risk of losing the aerodrome certification. This particular incident flies directly against Part 140 of the Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements.
The matter is so serious that the Chief Fire Officer has called for a full joint investigation into the matter. CFO Hails became aware of the incident around December 12 and immediately started some internal inquiries into the irregularities. Within 7 days he notified the ministry of his preliminary findings; and stressing the importance of a more through investigation into the matter.
The level of expertise required to be on hand depends on the size of the aircraft that is landing at the airport. The Owen Roberts International Airport (ORIA) is considered a Cat 7 and the fire station would normally have the required 8 competent personnel, managers and equipment on hand. However, the CIFS can accommodate up to a Cat 9 with at least two hours’ notice provided to the management at the fire station. The varying levels include having certain specifically trained personnel on hand as well as the required equipment to handle certain types of aircraft emergencies. Cat 9 requires 12 trained personnel, 3 vehicles and 2 supervisors.
On November 7 a 767 aircraft landed at 12:50 pm and took off again at 3:15 pm from ORIA. An internal government memorandum has confirmed that a series of events occurred on that day that has led to a considerable breach. In the memo, dated 19 December, Chief Fire Officer David Hails has officially informed ministry staff of the series of events and fallout from that flight.
That aircraft, which we understand was a private charter requested the Cat 9 status activation. In fact, it should have only required a Cat 8 status given its size; but that was not discovered until a later date. According to the memo, Acting Station Officer Larue Nixon stated that he was only given 15 minutes notice by Air Traffic Control (ATC) that the flight was incoming and had to scramble to acquire the necessary staff.
It was clear that they did not have the required personnel on duty and ATC should have been immediately notified of this. Instead, senior fire staff made the fateful decision to falsify government records.
Acting Station Officer Nixon was interviewed by the HR manager at the fire station and indicated that that he was told the plane was a cargo flight and he was only given 15 minutes notice of its arrival. The authorities now know that in fact, it was a loaded passenger plane carrying about 200 persons.
The Watch Officer Log was created on that same day which states that the fire service had the required personnel to have the aircraft land safely at ORIA. The falsified records indicated that 3 additional personnel were called into work to meet the Cat 9 requirements. With only 15 minutes notice of a landing; by all accounts, this seems highly unlikely.
On 23 November, some 16 days later, the log was modified to state that qualified senior managers were covering as the additional staff where not actually available. Oddly, there were also not enough senior managers that would have been qualified to assist with the Cat 9 flight.
In the revised version of events, Nixon claims that Acting Deputy Chief Officer Brevon Elliott, Acting Senior Divisional Officer Gilbert Rankin, Acting Divisional Officer Marcus Scott and Fire Officer James Ebanks were available to assist with the Cat 9 aircraft; and no additional personnel were called in as first stated.
However, Elliott does not have the necessary certification and competencies and Rankin was medically unfit and on extended light duty – walking with the assistance of a cane. Of the 4 personnel mentioned only Scott is qualified for this category landing.
CMR exclusive sources indicate that CCTV footage and staff sign-in logs were not matching and essentially documents were falsified in the first instance and then changed again at a later date. This accusation is extremely seriously and could cause the fire service to lose its aerodrome certification.
Cayman Marl Road understands from multiple sources that Acting Deputy Chief Officer Brevon Elliott was promoted to this acting senior role in the fire service despite objections from the Chief Fire Officer. His contention that he was not certified to hold this post has been overridden entirely by the Ministry and Chief Officer. Despite opportunities to do the required training in the past several months Elliott had not undertaken that certification.
To date, no staff have been suspended pending a full investigation. Despite the memo stating the intention to demote the acting senior staff members back to their “substantive ranks and roles at least while the investigation is conducted” this has not been done. In fact, Elliott is now Acting as Chief Fire Officer; while Hails is on leave.
The Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements (OTARs) describe the means by which aircraft operators, aviation personnel and providers of services can gain approvals, licences and certificates and the process through which these are maintained. This process ensures adequate levels of safety and internationally agreed standards are met.
The requirements of OTAR Part 140 cover the management, operation and maintenance of any Rescue and Fire-Fighting Service (RFFS) provided at a certificated aerodrome and at such non-certificated aerodromes as the Governor shall direct.
Read Full Memo here
UPDATE: The ministry has issued the following statement:
STATEMENT ON FIRE SERVICE INCIDENT
Following a report by Cayman Marl Road on 27 December 2018, the Ministry of Financial Services and Home Affairs can confirm that the Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Cayman Islands (CAACI) was informed of the alleged incident, by Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Hails on 12th December 2018. The CFO subsequently submitted an ‘occurrence report’ to the CAACI on 21st December 2018.
Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements (OTAR) Part 13, ‘Occurrence Reporting’ states that the Aerodrome Certificate holder (CIAA), or any person required to provide an occurrence report, shall conduct an investigation through the organisation’s Safety Management System (SMS).
In compliance with this, the Ministry can further confirm that a joint investigation will be conducted by the CIFS and the CIAA, commencing 2 January 2019. A report on the findings will be produced, including where necessary, recommendations to ensure that similar occurrences are not repeated.
The Ministry has been advised by the CAACI that the sole objective of occurrence reporting is the prevention of accidents and incidents and not to attribute blame or liability. Upon receipt of the report following the joint investigation, the CAACI will review such recommendations and determine regulatory compliance of the outcome.
As there is a protocol in place for the handling of such matters per established best practices, the Ministry will await the completion of the joint investigation.