Overseas firefighters getting monthly housing allowance
Canadian firefighters brought to the island to bolster numbers at the airport receive about $4,500 in monthly housing allowances, it was revealed in the Senate yesterday.
The Reverend Emily Gail Dill, the Junior Minister of National Security and Transport, also said that past “austerity measures” had resulted in 33 vacant and unfunded positions across the island’s fire service.
“Our firefighters are using overtime in order to be able to manage,” she said. “Has it created stress for them? Yes, it has.
“We are working assiduously to address this issue. We have brought in staff from overseas to ensure that there is not any extra added strain on our current service. It is our intention to remedy the situation or, if not, improve it in the not too distant future.”
She added that the posts would need to be funded by Parliament for them to be filled.
“We all understand that we can only recruit to posts that are approved and have budgets approved by the legislature,” Dr Dill said.
“We all understand the austerity measures that were applied. Certainly we are seeing the result of that years down the line.”
Dr Dill said that the Port Royal Fire Station required 26 firefighters but had only 21, while the Hamilton Fire Station required 28 firefighters but had only 22.
Meanwhile, the Clearwater Fire Station – which also operates an ambulance in the East End – required 34 firefighters to operate both but had only 21.
Dr Dill said that while the number of firefighters needed for the airport would be determined by an audit – 17 Bermudian firefighters were assigned for the division and it was believed that as many as 48 may be required.
She also told the Senate that overseas firefighters brought in to bolster numbers within the airport division earlier this year are paid $5,850.30 per month – the lowest level of compensation for firefighters in Bermuda.
However, Dr Dill said they also received a monthly housing allowance of “approximately $4,500”.
“It is extremely difficult to find short-term housing. This has been a very challenging task for the ministry in light of the fact that this was something we had not anticipated,” she said.
On fire staffing at LF Wade International Airport, she said: “Previously they had only required five firefighters per shift, and in February there was an audit that said in order to remain open we had to very quickly force additional firefighters to meet this challenge.”
She added that the firefighters were hired as “consultants”, which meant they did not receive some of the benefits enjoyed by local firefighters including sick leave, maternity leave or parental leave, bereavement leave, time in lieu, public holidays, medical and dental benefits and a telephone allowance.
The senator added that the overseas firefighters were required to register to pay local taxes and might be liable to pay taxes in Canada.
Asked about past recruit courses, Dr Dill told the Senate that 49 recruits had been trained since 2011 in five sessions. However, only 40 of those firefighters remain with the service.
The Government had previously said that 11 new recruits were expected to complete training in March 2023 and would be assigned to the airport.
One Bermuda Alliance senator Ben Smith, who had put forward the questions on the topic in the Senate, told The Royal Gazette he was shocked by the amount of housing allowance given to the overseas firefighters.
“The argument was the firefighters have benefits in their job, which most people would agree are just basic benefits that are given to anybody that has a job,” he said.
“To compare health insurance, social insurance and all the benefits of having that job with having a full $4,500 housing allowance is disrespectful for anyone not only in the fire service, but everybody in Bermuda that is struggling.”
Mr Smith said he was also concerned about the lack of attention paid to the shortfall in firefighters numbers at stations outside the airport.
“When you are talking about a situation where people have to do extended overtime, you are stretching people to the limit in a job that is already taxing,” he said.
“If we take multiple years to just deal with the airport, we will be in a critical situation with the West, central and East End branches.”