Chad Pittman, Deputy Chief
What Is It and Why Should We Do It?
Every day, local government officials make decisions that relate to providing fire protection, emergency medical services, hazardous material control, and other services for their community. The modern day crisis is having to do more for less. It is often difficult to justify increases in expenditures unless they are directly attributed to improved or expanded service delivery. This overall process has been hindered by the lack of a nationally accepted set of standards by which a community can evaluate the level and quality of its emergency services.
For many years, outside evaluation, the only true objective, was done by the Insurance Services Office (ISO). Through the years, Palm Harbor Fire Rescue saw its ISO rating improve from a grade 6 to a grade 4. However, everyone connected to the process realized the lack of real pertinence between the grading system and the department’s performance.
The accreditation process began as a joint effort between the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) in late 1988. These organizations committed to develop a voluntary national fire service accreditation system.
Today, the cornerstone of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) is the voluntary self-assessment. There are a number of benefits in conducting the self assessment. This is a compilation of the benefits taken from the CFAI Self Assessment Manual, Sixth Edition:
▪ the promotion of excellence within your fire/emergency service organization,
▪ encouraging quality improvement through a continuous self assessment process,
▪ providing related assurances to peers and the public that the organization has defined a mission and related objectives that will result in improving organizational performances,
▪ providing a detailed evaluation of the department and the services it provides to the community,
▪ identifying areas of strength and weakness within the organization,
▪ provides for departmental growth,
▪ provides a forum for the communication of management and leadership philosophies,
▪ a system for national recognition for the department and fosters pride in the organization.
All of the listed benefits are important to the members of Palm Harbor Fire Rescue and the community. To further explain the positive results of conducting the self assessment process, the department should be able to answer the following questions when the assessment is complete:
Is the organization effective?
Are the goals, objectives, and mission of the organization being achieved?
What are the reasons for the success of the organization?
What Is The Process?
Self Assessment Document
The primary method of evaluating the department involves an in-depth self assessment. The CFAI Self-Assessment Manual designates the
areas to be evaluated. Presently, there are ten categories that are assessed. These ten categories cover a comprehensive cross-section of the fire department’s administration and operations. The ten categories are:
Category 1: Governance and Administration
Category 2: Assessment and Planning
Category 3: Goals and Objectives
Category 4: Financial Resources
Category 5: Programs (this includes most operational subjects)
Category 6: Physical Resources
Category 7: Human Resources
Category 8: Training and Competency
Category 9: Essential Resources
Category 10: External System Relations
Under each category, there are performance indicators to evaluate. Each performance indicator has four topics in which responses must be written. The four topics are Description, Appraisal, Plan, and Reference. Each response could typically be answered in a long paragraph or two. The reference topic indicates what reference material is being given as proof to support the
information given in the performance indicator. In the Sixth Edition of the Accreditation Manual, there are 230 performance indicators.
Palm Harbor Fire Rescue staff wrote the material in the self-assessment document. It took up most of a three inch, 3-ring binder. It was over 400 pages long. The process took more than two years to complete.
Once the document is sent to the CFAI office, their job is to assign a site-visit team leader and team members. Once the team leader is selected, he/she begins reviewing the documents submitted to the CFAI. These include the Department’s Self- Assessment Manual, Strategic Plan, Annual Report, and the Standard of Response Coverage. After team members are selected and the items submitted have been reviewed and approved, a site visit is scheduled.
Because the team members are typically full time fire department employees, scheduling a site visit takes a great deal of coordination. Once the team leader for our visit was Dave Burns, a fire chief from Iowa. It took several months to get a team assembled and the visit scheduled. Prior to arriving in Palm Harbor, the team members were assigned topics in the document to read and evaluate. On Sunday, November 9th, all of the team members began their on-site evaluation of the Palm Harbor Fire Rescue.
Over the next three days, the staff and members of the department were asked questions about many various topics, most directly related to something written in our document. By late Tuesday afternoon, we were told that we had met all of requirements for accreditation. The site visit had been a huge success. In fact, Chief Burns made the comment, “this has been the smoothest site visit I’ve
ever been involved with.” He said he had been on five previous site visits. The team would send an affirmative recommendation to the CFAI Board, who would officially make the decision in February. The CFAI Board has never rejected a recommendation from a site-visit team.
The site team made a few recommendations for improvement that the Department leadership will be evaluating and implementing. The process of self-assessment doesn’t stop here, but rather continues. We will have to submit an annual report to CFAI detailing the progress we’ve made toward improvement. In five years, we will have to repeat the entire procedure.