The Rockford Fire Department received international accreditation on August 25, 2011. Fire Service accreditation is administered by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) and requires an embedded culture of quality throughout an organization. Maintaining accreditation is a significant undertaking and requires the combined best efforts of all members of the District. Accreditation necessitates the development and maintenance of several key documents including a Strategic Plan, a Self-Assessment Manual (SAM), and a Standards of Cover (SOC) deployment analysis.
From left to right: Captain Michele Pankow, Fire Chief Derek Bergsten, Battalion Chief Mike Scott from Kent County Fire Authority (Kent, Washington), Division Chief Jim Strey, and Division Chief Matt Knott.
- What is accreditation?
Accreditation is a comprehensive assessment and evaluation model for fire and emergency service organizations. The accreditation process helps to determine community risks and fire safety needs evaluate the performance of an agency, and provides a method for continuous improvement. The accreditation and certification bodies change requirements over time, requiring accredited agencies to continue to evolve and improve.
The commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) is governed by an 11-member commission representing a cross-section of the fire service industry, including fire departments, city and county management, code councils, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the International Association of Firefighters. The full commission meets bi-annually to review all agencies applying for accreditation or re-accreditation status.
- Why did the department pursue accreditation?
- Because it was the right thing to do. Conducting a comprehensive assessment and identifying areas where we could improve was a responsible course of action. Having a detailed evaluation for our use provides a basis for good decision-making.
- Reassures the citizens we serve and ultimately protects their interest and investment in City services.
- Provides the internal and external review of the services we provide to the community.
- The promotion of excellence in our organization is an initiative that both management and labor are fully committed to. Accreditation was a recognized framework to guide this endeavor.
- Accreditation provides assurances to our stakeholders that we are doing a good job. Stakeholders in our organization include the citizens we serve, city governments, businesses, neighboring agencies, and others.
- Accreditation allows us to showcase our capabilities and quality. Assessments of our agency have the transparency of external peer review.
- Fosters pride within our organization
- Because the timing was right. Our organization has always focused on the most important task at hand. A pause in growth and other challenges at the time allowed for a top to bottom review of our current practices.
- Expanded the District’s organizational knowledge, including its business operations.
- Assists us in maintaining our ISO rating; creates the environment to pursue a rating improvement and ensures the lowest fire insurance rates possible in the community we protect.
- Provides a long-lasting shared knowledge of the organization and provides a foundation for sound succession management.
- Brought our membership together to build a better organization.
- Determined the Department’s strengths, weaknesses, limitations, and opportunities for improved service.
- Provided a method to analyze the services provided by the Department and how best to deliver those services.
- Are CFAI accreditation and ISO Class (PPC) the same?
No. CFAI is the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. ISO is the Insurance Services Office. ISO ratings are somewhat limited in their application because they are related mostly to firefighting operations. As noted in the ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule, "The Schedule is a fire insurance rating tool and is not intended to analyze all aspects of a comprehensive public fire protection program. It should not be used for purposes other than insurance rating."
CFAI accreditation takes a far broader look at an organization. Within the accreditation, the model are ten categories that fire agencies use as the basis to benchmark and evaluate performance. These categories are:
- Assessment and Planning
- Essential Resources
- External Systems Relations
- Financial Resources
- Goals and Objectives
- Governance and Administration
- Human Resources
- Physical Resources
- Training and Competency
The ISO is a national insurance engineering service organization that assigns a public protection classification (PPC) to jurisdictions based on fire agency services. Insurance companies typically establish insurance rates for individual occupancies or groups of occupancies based on the PPC. The PPCs are established using the ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS). once widely used by fire departments to evaluate system performance, the FSRS's use is somewhat limited in that it only evaluates fire protection (not EMS or wildland fuel modification, for example). Also, the FSRS does not consider efficiency (e.g., how many resources are deployed in comparison to the number of actual calls). Though not as widely used today, ISO ratings are still appropriate to consider as part of a more comprehensive system performance review. Combined with other assessments, ISO standards are useful, but not by themselves.
To analyze a community's fire protection, the ISO uses a grading system of 1 to 10. A community protection factor of 1 is the highest possible grade with insurance rates likely to be lowest for the community (rating increase by 1 for every 10 credits, eg., Class 1 = 90 plus credits, Class 2 = 80 to 89.99, Class 3 = 70 to 79.99, etc.). A community with a Class 10 rating means that there essentially is no recognized fire protection system or availability of water for fire suppression. Only a very small number of communities with very effective water distribution systems and highly capable career fire departments are able to achieve a rating of 1. The Rockford Fire Department is currently an ISO Class 2 and is vigorously pursuing a Class 1 PPC.
The three components evaluated by ISO in making a final determination of PPC are:
- Fire department: fire station locations, number of engines/trucks, staffing levels, training, etc. (50%)
- Water supply (40%)
- Emergency dispatching and communications (10%)
Self-Assessment is a discovery process that provides the ability to evaluate programs and activities in relation to improving the quality of the organization by increasing the safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of the District. There are 45 specific criteria used to sub-categorize the 244 Performance Indicators within the ten measured categories. 77 of the 244 Performance Indicators are Core Competencies and must be met without exception to achieve accreditation.