Short-term firefighter cover at airport to cost $2.8 million
Another 25 firefighters from overseas are to be brought to the island to bolster numbers at the airport fire station.
Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, said yesterday that contracts for ten firefighters who came earlier to Bermuda will also be extended.
The additional 25 officers are to be recruited early next month to help provide LF Wade International Airport cover to mandated standards through March 31, 2023, he said.
A government spokesman added that the contract extensions and the further recruitment will cost $2.8 million.
Mr Weeks said: "The Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service has a responsibility to do its part in keeping the airport fully functioning for our economic survival.“
He added: “This increase in staff numbers is essential to meet the standards which are required for commercial aircraft that regularly land in Bermuda.
“This supports tourism, business travel, and Bermudians travelling for leisure, education or medical attention.
“Our connection to the rest of the world is through that one airport, and the ministry is determined to support its operation by playing its part and bolstering the ranks within the BFRS in this way.”
A representative of the Bermuda Fire Service Association said earlier that one of the initial ten firefighters brought to the island had already left because of an injury, and feared that others were unlikely to extend their contract.
“They were only contracted for 90 days initially and some were not able to extend their contracts due to obligations back home,” the representative said.
“The first departure this week was due to an unfortunate injury, but it was one of the firefighters that was departing anyway.”
The BFSA representative added: “We've also been told that the next local recruit class, which is currently nearing the end of the hiring process, and was advertised for the structural division, is in fact being reassigned to the airport division, as was stated by Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, some time ago now.”
The representative praised the work of the visiting firefighters, saying that they had done a great job and fit in well with local firefighters, but more manpower was still needed.
Mr Weeks said yesterday: “The ministry has already advertised for 11 firefighters locally, and with such a positive response, we are confident that all vetting, testing and interviewing will be done in time for the successful applicants to start their training in early October.
“Training takes time, and the women and men of the BFRS are committed to producing top-quality Bermudian firefighters who will carry on the tradition of professionalism that is the hallmark of this uniformed service.
“In this, they have the full support of the ministry.”
The number of firefighters at the airport station contributes to the airport’s Rescue and Fire Fighting Services category, which determined what type of aircraft can use the facility.
Mr Weeks told the House of Assembly on July 1 that since 1995 the accepted minimum duty strength at the airport had required three crews of five firefighters, which had enabled the airport to provide a response category rating of 9.
However, an audit carried out in February increased the minimum required duty strength from five firefighters per crew to 14 to maintain that category.
Earlier this month, Lester Nelson, the CEO of the Bermuda Airport Authority, said that LF Wade International Airport was operating under a variable rating.
While the airport usually operated as a category 7, he explained that it was increased to a category 8 for the British Airways service.
“The highest level of RFFS provided at the airport is Category 8, which is provided for all British Airways operations involving their Boeing 777-200 aircraft,” he said.
“While the 777 is rated by the aircraft’s manufacturer as a Category 9 aircraft for RFFS purposes, the aviation regulations permit operations up to one RFFS category below the aircraft’s category.”
The representative of the BFSA said it was likely that significantly more firefighters would need to be assigned to the airport in order for the airport category to rise back to 9.
“We currently have a strength of 23 at the airport, and probably need to get to 45 to 50 in total to get back to category 9 compliance,” he said.
“Our concern is that the desperate need for resources at the airport will drastically affect the structural division and in turn, Bermuda's tax paying residents.
“It could take years to bring the airport up to sufficient manpower, and our worry is they will sacrifice the structural division to offset some of the pain.
“We want to reiterate that the FSA is in support of the overseas hires as a necessary emergency mitigation to keep the airport open in the short term, and in the best interest of Bermuda's economy, but as we have stated many times, we want to know that Bermudians are the long term plan.”
Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of National Security, said: “It appears that the Government is scrambling desperately to obtain and train the required number of Bermudian firefighters, especially those with the required experience for airport duty.
“It is concerning that under a PLP Government it is necessary to hire firefighters from overseas when the PLP always state that they put Bermudians first.”
Mr Dunkley added that while the new terminal has been received positively by the airport industry and many passengers, it was critical that the services – including emergency services – were up to standard.
He added: “This is an important matter to resolve and one can only imagine if the OBA had imported firefighters.”