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Firefighters’ morale at ‘all-time low’

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Chronic staff shortages, a dictatorial leadership, and the promotion of inexperienced personnel to key positions are putting the lives of Bermuda’s firefighters at risk, according to the Fire Service Association.

In a damning assessment of departing Chief Fire Officer Vincent Hollinsid’s tenure at the helm of the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service, the association — which represents around 100 rank and file members of the BFRS — claims that favouritism has led to “unfair promotions”, putting inexperienced officers in command of situations they cannot handle.

The association blasted Mr Hollinsid, who is due to step down as the Island’s top firefighter in April after 43 years with the service, for his “extremely dictatorial” style of leadership and claimed morale, already at an “all-time low”, was on a downward slide.

The service is currently operating with a manpower shortage of around 30 percent and had vacancies for 31 firefighters.

Last night the FSA said members had been unaware of Mr Hollinsid’s resignation but were “elated” to hear the news.

“The fact that there are so many vacancies and the morale of the service is at an all-time low, leaves us astounded that we would receive such short notice of his departure,” FSA president Allan Wilkinson told

The Royal Gazette.

“Because of the staff shortages we are having to operate at reduced manning levels and that obviously creates more of a risk and more of a demand on our members.

“There has been favouritism with regards to who moves forward — it appears that promotions aren’t always based on training and education and experience. In some cases people who might not even be the most suitable person for the job have been fast-tracked and as a result they have certain responsibilities that they can’t carry out. Our lives at the service depend on qualified and experienced personnel in decision-making positions.”

Mr Wilkinson added that other officers had been overlooked for promotion, resulting in a further dip in morale.

Refuting a claim by Mr Hollinsid that funding was an issue for the service, he said: “Careers at the department have been held in the balance — in some cases for the better part of six years — and this has proved cancerous within the department.

“Officers are currently acting at various points within ranks of the department, and most on a substantive basis to cover an alarming number of vacant positions.”

Mr Wilkinson claimed that Mr Hollinsid had failed to implement a succession plan approved by the last Government. As a result, members are concerned that at least some potential candidates in line to succeed Mr Hollinsid “do not possess the relevant credentials for the post”.

Referring to an earlier claim by Mr Hollinsid that three officers were qualified to replace him as chief, Mr Wilkinson said: “This statement is not correct. There are only two persons qualified — despite the non-existence of a succession plan — and a third being fast tracked who will not meet the criteria of the current job description for Chief, by April 30, 2013.

“We do expect an attempt to amend the current job description for this post, to facilitate the fast tracking. This process relating to personnel has already proven ineffective within the department. The responsibility to fill vacancies and to have a viable succession plan is that of the Chief Fire Officer, to which he has obviously defaulted.

“Members of the service are of the opinion that, in an effort to reverse the downward slide of morale within the service, a fair process for a qualified successor is critical. There are many alarming stories of unfair promotions under the current leadership, hence, the opinion of members to have the successor included with recommendations for his team of qualified and suitable leaders moving forward.

Stressing that firefighters were committed to delivering “a high standard of service”, Mr Wilkinson said his members will work “diligently” with Mr Hollinsid’s successor — but that “controversial promotions at this stage would only add to the many challenges that the new Chief Fire Officer will face moving forward”.

“On many occasions, Mr. Hollinsid has been made aware that we will not support any decision with the potential to adversely affect the health and safety of personnel,” he added.

Mr Hollinsid did not return our calls last night. But in an interview with

The Royal Gazette last week, he acknowledged that staffing issues were having a negative impact on those on the front line.

“We have to cover shifts with overtime which doesn’t allow them enough time to de-stress,” he said.

Fed-up: Firefighters say the Fire Service is understaffed and has been hampered by 'dictatorial' management (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Fed-up: Firefighters say the Fire Service is understaffed and has been hampered by 'dictatorial' management (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published February 22, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated February 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm)

Firefighters’ morale at ‘all-time low’

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