Fire department accreditation is a topic of concern among many departments looking to stand out among their peers.
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May 9, 2019
    Article highlights
  • What are the benefits of accreditation?
  • Making the accreditation process easier.

With so many top-priority issues to deal with, fire department accreditation might seem like a nice ideal if you had the time, staff, budget, and resources to make it happen.

In fact, comparative statistics from the National Fire Protective Association show that not only has the total volume of fire department calls increased since 1980, but the variety of emergencies departments handle has changed as well.

While the number of calls for fires has actually decreased since 1980, the numbers of calls for medical aid, false alarms, mutual aid, hazmat, and other services has dramatically increased.

What this means is, fire departments need to adapt to the changing landscaping of serving the community and implement best practices to deliver the all-hazard emergency service your community expects.

As the fire service continues to grow and evolve, accreditation marks one path of success for departments that want to stand out among their peers.

What is accreditation and who is it for?

Accreditation is a certification or verification that an organization maintains high standards and achieves professional credentials that may be required (or highly encouraged) in the industry, signaling a level of excellence.

As a professional symbol of competency, accreditation impacts a wide variety of fields, from construction and education to food safety and healthcare. No matter the industry, if you want to prove you perform with excellence, authority, and credibility, you seek accreditation.

For example, the main law enforcement program, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), has over 1,000 accredited members. Although not as widespread as in other fields, accreditation in the fire service is gaining momentum.

The two primary accreditations that fire departments can seek are the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) issued by Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) and Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS).

Of course, becoming accredited is neither easy nor cheap – even for those already operating at the highest levels. It involves an extensive, step-by-step review and approval process, regardless of the accreditation or field.

If you are considering fire service accreditation, take a look at the benefits as well as how to make the process easier for your fire department.

What Are the Benefits of Accreditation?

The path to accreditation can be arduous and expensive. In light of this, you might wonder why fire departments would want to even pursue this option. What are the benefits of accreditation? Take a look.

Peer assessment

Probably the greatest value to seeking fire department accreditation is the opportunity to get evaluated and assessed by a group of peers.

With CFAI in particular, you bring in a team of peer assessors to review your department, your processes, your documents, and your overall operation to make sure you are meeting those high standards.

This discernment from seasoned, accredited fire officers provides valuable insights into areas you can improve and changes you can make (both small and large) to better serve your community.

Even if you never completed the accreditation process, the self-assessment journey alone offers an eye-opening look at where you are and where you need to be.

By collecting all of the necessary documentation and taking a deep-dive into every area of your department’s operations, you can see the benchmarks you are hitting (or should be striving for) to deliver top-notch, innovative emergency services. Then you use these insights to work with the community to formalize the standards of cover and create a strategic plan.

Plus, this process provides tremendous value to all ranks of the department who participate in the self-assessment. In essence, it provides a way of future-proofing your department.

Improves safety and wellness

To achieve fire accreditation, you need to operate according to industry best practices, which includes establishing and maintaining programs to address the safety and wellness of your firefighters. Additionally, your facilities and training programs must rise to those same high standards.

When you go through the process to meet those fire accreditation standards, it raises the level of performance, safety, and effectiveness throughout the department. It also ensures all of those programs are working together to achieve organizational goals.

In essence, the entire process elevates your fire department on every level. It fully aligns your department with best practices and high standards.

Senior firefighter gives a talking to with a younger firefighter about his standards of excellence.

Provides rationale for funding

Going through the fire accreditation process provides a detailed analysis of specific community risks and citizens’ expectations as well as your department’s efforts to address them.

With that statistical data in hand – and your ability to directly show where the department needs funding to address those issues – can prove crucial at budget time. You can use this information to both educate leadership and build support for your budget requests

When you can tie specific problems or issues in the community to your funding requests, you are more likely to gain support (and dollars) to solve those problems or address these issues. These specifics help elected officials put your budget request into context rather than seeing a vague explanation of “improves performance.”

Furthermore, when you can demonstrate the return on the investment (or the potential consequences of not getting funded), you boost the odds of your budget request being approved.

Builds trust in your community

Fire department accreditation also empowers you to educate your citizens on the risks in the community and how well your department addresses them. The process lies bare your department’s strengths and weaknesses and provides a roadmap for transforming those areas of vulnerability into powerful community assets.

Not only will the community see that they have a top-notch fire department, but this will build trust among citizens.

A side benefit? Typically, those departments that go through the accreditation process see their ISO scores improve, which benefits everyone in the community.

Achieving accreditation serves as a tremendous source of pride and accomplishment that can be felt throughout the community both internally and externally. After all, accreditation symbolizes that you have joined an elite group of roughly 250 fire/rescue agencies around the world to achieve this prestigious designation.

Externally, departments proudly emblazon their fire trucks with the accreditation logo, demonstrating to the community that their department has been measured and approved. Internally, accreditation boosts pride at every level, signifying the department’s commitment to continuous improvement.

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Making the Accreditation Process Easier

Again, fire service accreditation is not an easy process. Accreditation involves plenty of time, resources, and commitment in order to achieve it. But as you can see, it is a worthwhile pursuit. Here are some ways your fire department can make that process easier.

Make it a whole team effort

You might think that, in order to lessen the burden on the whole department, leadership should limit how many people are involved in or impacted by the fire accreditation process. Maybe the idea is to put together a small accreditation team to run the process.

But in the end, everyone is touched by the process in some regard. Therefore, if you silo the accreditation team, the other members will not understand the importance and significance of their work, leaving them frustrated or confused by the process.

Instead, involve the whole department, getting everyone’s buy-in from the beginning. Make this a stated goal that everyone knows why the department is seeking accreditation, what it will mean for everyone, and what will be asked of them throughout the process.

This will help make accreditation a true team initiative rather than a top-down leadership effort. Plus, it will increase the support throughout as everyone wants to do their part in getting this win for the department as a whole.

Fire department uses PowerDMS to manage their accreditation process.

Talk with an accredited agency

The good news? You don’t need to go it alone. As you probably know from personal experience, public safety officials (especially fire department leaders and staff) love to help each other out. If you have questions, concerns, or problems, help is just a phone call away.

Simply call up a nearby agency and talk to their accreditation manager, listen to what did (and didn’t) work for them throughout the process, and get helpful information about how to best proceed.

Not sure which local emergency services agency can help? Find a complete list of the accredited members on the CPSE website. You can easily find one close by or at least one that serves an equivalent population size.

Use a document management tool

As you might imagine, fire department accreditation involves a lot of documentation to prove your performance in all areas. You will need to collect, manage, and store your department’s data in one central, easily-accessible location.

Rather than file it away on one person’s computer or even on a shared drive, use a robust document management software, like PowerDMS.

Throughout the process, you will need to route documents for review by specific personnel. And once you achieve accreditation, you will need to review policies and procedures annually to ensure they still meet the standards.

By managing that process in PowerDMS, you can save yourself time and hassle of routing and tracking all of that documentation. This time-saving, cloud-based tool can help everyone involved know where to go for the correct information and to know specifically what they have been tasked with.

It also gives the accreditation team valuable insight into where things are in the process. This reduces the stress of needing to compile data and critical documents for the peer assessment and final review.

With elected officials increasingly relying on data-driven initiatives and best practices, achieving fire department accreditation goes a long way in proving your excellence, competency, and authority.

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