Minister Weeks On Firefighters, Airport & More

October 2, 2022 | 3 Comments

The cost of the 35 overseas firefighters “through to the end of March is anticipated to be approximately $2.75 million,” Minister of National Security Michael Weeks said, adding that the overseas firefighters allow us to “maintain uninterrupted flight operations at the airport” and “eleven local persons are being hired from November to train as airport rated firefighters and their training will be completed by the end of March 2023.”

Speaking in the House of Assembly, the Minister said, “I rise today to provide an update on the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service Airport Operations Division.

“You will recall that I made a statement to this Honourable House on the 1st July of this year advising of the revised requirements for the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service at the Airport.

“At that time I advised that the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service operates the Airport Rescue Firefighting Services which provides aircraft rescue and firefighting services for the L.F. Wade International Airport. This is an essential service that enables the airport to serve commercial flights.

“A February 2022 Skyport Audit of the Airport Operations Division recommended increasing firefighter minimum duty strength from 5 per crew to 14, in order to maintain a category 9 response rating for the airport.

“In the interim, 10 overseas firefighters were brought in as a temporary measure to ensure that the airport continued to operate as normal. However, the numbers only provided for us to maintain a Category 7 rating. In order to provide a surge for the British Airways flight, staff are required to come back in on their rest days and do excessive overtime.

“This was not a sustainable short term solution and put an unfair strain on firefighters who could not take leave or even a rest day. In order to maintain sufficient firefighters at the airport, an additional 25] firefighters are being contracted from overseas from October until the end of March 2023. This will enable the service to maintain the interim minimum duty strength without excessive overtime and burn out of local firefighters. It will allow local firefighters to take their leave and rest days.

“The cost of this surge in 35 firefighters through to the end of March is anticipated to be approximately $2.75 million. I want to make it clear that the overseas firefighters are here on a short term contract and their package reflects that fact. It includes return flights, housing and a base monthly fee paid in arrears. Their monthly fee equates to the lowest monthly rate for a local firefighter.

“They are responsible for registering and paying taxes. Whilst they receive two days off per month they do not receive the same benefits as local firefighters who benefit not only from full time employment but annual leave, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave, parental leave, bereavement leave, long service leave, lieu leave, special personal leave, public holidays, pension benefits, retirement benefit, medical benefit, dental benefit, ophthalmic benefit and a telephone allowance.

“We are very fortunate to have been able to secure the services of the overseas firefighters in such short order in order to maintain uninterrupted flight operations at the airport.

“Once we have agreed the final minimum duty strength requirements for the airport, we will look at all options for meeting those requirements and as promised, I will provide an update to this Honourable House at that time. In the interim, eleven local persons are being hired from November to train as airport rated firefighters and their training will be completed by the end of March 2023.”

The Minister’s full statement follows below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to provide an update on the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service Airport Operations Division.

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that I made a statement to this Honourable House on the 1st July of this year advising of the revised requirements for the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service at the Airport.

Mr. Speaker, at that time I advised that the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service operates the Airport Rescue Firefighting Services which provides aircraft rescue and firefighting services for the L.F. Wade International Airport. This is an essential service that enables the airport to serve commercial flights.

Mr. Speaker, you will recall that Skyport is the L.F. Wade International Airport’s Aerodrome Certificate Holder. The certificate is issued by the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority to Skyport and enables them to operate the airport. One of the many regulated activities under the certification is the Airport Rescue Firefighting Services.

Mr. Speaker, as previously advised, the Airport Rescue Firefighting Services is a Retained Government Service as part of the airport project agreement between Skyport and the Bermuda Airport Authority. The Bermuda Airport Authority is responsible for providing the Retained Government Service and have transferred responsibility for the delivery of the Airport Rescue Firefighting Services to the Bermuda Fire Rescue Service by way of a Memorandum of Understanding in 2007, with an amendment in 2017. There is no fee paid by Skyport to the Bermuda Airport Authority or to the Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service for this service.

Mr. Speaker, I wish to remind my Honourable colleagues that since 1995, the accepted minimum duty strength at the airport required three crews of five firefighters per shift. This enabled the airport to provide a response category rating of 9. A rating of 9 is required for large commercial jets including British Airways’ Boeing 777 aircraft service to Bermuda.

Mr. Speaker, a February 2022 Skyport Audit of the Airport Operations Division recommended increasing firefighter minimum duty strength from five [5] per crew to fourteen [14], in order to maintain a category 9 response rating for the airport.

Mr. Speaker, the Bermuda Airport Authority retained a UK Civil Aviation Authority Rescue Fire Fighting expert to review the recommended requirements including the minimum duty strength. The expert has completed his on-Island review and his report is being used for further discussions with Skyport and the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority on the minimum duty strength requirements at the airport.

Mr. Speaker, in the interim, ten [10] overseas firefighters were brought in as a temporary measure to ensure that the airport continued to operate as normal. However, the numbers only provided for us to maintain a Category 7 rating. In order to provide a surge for the British Airways flight, staff are required to come back in on their rest days and do excessive overtime.

Mr. Speaker, this was not a sustainable short term solution and put an unfair strain on firefighters who could not take leave or even a rest day. In order to maintain sufficient firefighters at the airport, an additional twenty five [25] firefighters are being contracted from overseas from October until the end of March 2023. This will enable the service to maintain the interim minimum duty strength without excessive overtime and burn out of local firefighters. It will allow local firefighters to take their leave and rest days.

Mr. Speaker, the cost of this surge in thirty five [35] firefighters through to the end of March is anticipated to be approximately $2.75 million. I want to make it clear that the overseas firefighters are here on a short term contract and their package reflects that fact. It includes return flights, housing and a base monthly fee paid in arrears. Their monthly fee equates to the lowest monthly rate for a local firefighter. They are responsible for registering and paying taxes. Whilst they receive two days off per month they do not receive the same benefits as local firefighters who benefit not only from full time employment but annual leave, sick leave, maternity or paternity leave, parental leave, bereavement leave, long service leave, lieu leave, special personal leave, public holidays, pension benefits, retirement benefit, medical benefit, dental benefit, ophthalmic benefit and a telephone allowance.

Mr. Speaker, We are very fortunate to have been able to secure the services of the overseas firefighters in such short order in order to maintain uninterrupted flight operations at the airport.

Mr. Speaker, I can confirm that the airport rescue and firefighting services continue to be provided in accordance with approvals provided by the Bermuda Civil Aviation Authority as these changes are taking place. I can further confirm that the level of airport rescue and firefighting services meets the requirements of Bermuda’s commercial airlines operators and no flights have been cancelled due to the ongoing changes.

Mr. Speaker, Bermuda Fire Rescue Service’s goal is to successfully complete all of the required changes to the Airport Operations Division to ensure there are sustainable resources to maintain the recommended airport rescue and firefighting services.

Mr. Speaker, once we have agreed the final minimum duty strength requirements for the airport, we will look at all options for meeting those requirements and as promised, I will provide an update to this Honourable House at that time. In the interim, eleven local persons are being hired from November to train as airport rated firefighters and their training will be completed by the end of March 2023.

Mr. Speaker, in closing I would like to thank the women and men of the Bermuda Fire and Rescue Service for their service and in particular to those who have stepped up at the airport to meet this challenge. I would also like to thank the executive of the Fire Service Association for their support in this matter.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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Comments (3)

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  1. kevin says:

    Well just in case you werent sure if these numnuts were clue less you have it very clear. This government is as useless as it comes how could you be 35 firefighters short . maybe 3 or 4 if you miscalculated those who would resign and maybe take early retirement but 35 that is just plain piss poor management. its not money , its not lack of possible recruits its just plain bad management and it cant be all on the Fire Chief buts thats where it starts and ultimately ends with the government. So millions more will be spent on bad management and how about the fact that they got rid of the volunteers yup the plp government were very aware and allowed 30+ fully qualified volunteer firefighters to just go away through lack of equipment and just plain being disregarded…go ahead vote them back in soon we will all be looking to migrate

  2. Joe Bloggs says:

    Time for a fact check.

    “A February 2022 Skyport Audit of the Airport Operations Division recommended increasing firefighter minimum duty strength from 5 per crew to 14, in order to maintain a category 9 response rating for the airport … In order to maintain sufficient firefighters at the airport, an additional 25 firefighters are being contracted from overseas from October until the end of March 2023.”

    So the PLP Government knew about the manpower (person power?) shortage in February but took no action at all until July, when the Minister said that “In order to meet an increased amount of certified aircraft rescue firefighters needed per crew at the airport, the Government has “sourced ten 10 suitably qualified firefighters to come to Bermuda in July, initially for 3 months,””. See https://bernews.com/2022/07/ten-overseas-firefighters-to-assist-at-airport/

    Now, 3 months later, we do not have the promised locally sourced firefighters, but instead we have a further 25 foreigners doing jobs Bermudians should be doing!

    Has anyone seen a firefighter training course advertised?

    Is the need for firefighters posted on the Job Board?

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