What is Accreditation?
Accreditation is defined as a process by which an association or agency evaluates and recognizes a program of study or an institution as meeting certain predetermined standards or qualifications. Recognizing the value of such a process, Chief Larry Hess committed St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 to the accreditation process. St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 became a registered agency with the Center for Public Safety Excellence Inc. Commission on Fire Accreditation International in November 2006.
Specifically, the Center for Fire Accreditation International program is a comprehensive self-assessment and evaluation model for fire and emergency service organizations. Using this program, fire and EMS sectors can improve their level of professionalism, while enhancing service delivery. The program helps:- Determine risks and fire safety needs;- Evaluate the performance of the department; and - Provide a method for continuous improvement. The core of accreditation is the self-assessment process. The benefits of accreditation and self-assessment include:
Promoting excellence within fire and EMS agencies
Encouraging quality improvement through a continuous self-assessment process.
Assuring colleagues and the public that the organization has definite missions and objectives that are appropriate for the jurisdiction served.
Provides a detailed evaluation of a department, detailing the services it provides to the community.
Identifying areas of strength and weakness within the department.
Creating methods or systems for addressing deficiencies while building organizational success.
Encouraging professional growth for the department in addition to its personnel involved in the self assessment process.
Providing a forum for the communication of organizational priorities.
Fostering national recognition for a department by colleagues and the public.
Creating a mechanism for developing concurrent documents to include strategic and program action plans.
The accreditation model assists agencies in setting goals, crafting strategic and action plans for the future, and providing a means to continuously evaluate and improve services provided to the public.
The accreditation model is comprised of categories used to evaluate performance. The categories include:
Governance and Administration
Assessment and Planning
Goals and Objectives
Training and Competency
External Systems Relations
The Steps to Achieving Accreditation
The process of achieving accreditation includes four major components. These four levels allow a department to move through the CFAI process and achieve accreditation. The steps in the accreditation process are:
Step 1. Becoming a Registered Agency. Any agency seeking accreditation must become a Registered Agency. To become a Registered Agency, you must complete the Application for Registration and submit it to the CFAI with the appropriate fee ($350.00, valid for up to three (3) years). A Registered Agency will have access to the CFAI network, receive the CFAI newsletter, and receive a copy of the latest edition of the Fire & Emergency Service Self-Assessment manual, the resource upon which self-assessment and accreditation is based.
Step 2. Becoming an Applicant Agency. When an agency is ready to make the accreditation commitment, it must notify the Commission by submitting the Applicant Agency form with the appropriate accreditation fee. The fee structure for becoming an applicant agency is based on the population served within the jurisdiction. (100,000-199,999 pop. fee is $5,500.00) The agency then receives an Applicant Agency packet consisting of needed materials to proceed. The Applicant Agency status provides your department access to CFAI staff, technical assistance, and includes increased access to the CFAI network of agencies.
Step 3. Becoming an Accreditation Candidate. Once a department has completed the self-assessment process, including the risk analysis and strategic planning components, the completed documents must be submitted to the CFAI. The agency is now considered an Accreditation Candidate. During this phase, the on-site peer assessment takes place. The peer assessment team submits a final report to the agency and the Commission regarding its recommendation for accreditation status.
Step 4. Achieving Accreditation. To achieve accreditation, the Commission hears the candidacy report from the peer assessment team leader while the department representatives are present during a regularly scheduled Commission meeting. At this point, the Commission grants, denies, or defers accreditation, based on the candidacy reports.
Once accreditation is achieved, an agency must take steps to maintain and renew it. The annual fee is one-fifth of the applicant fee. These steps are:
Step 1. Maintaining Accreditation. At least 45 days prior to the anniversary date of accreditation, the department must submit to the Commission, an Annual Compliance Report (ACR) with the annual accreditation fee.
Step 2. Renewing Accreditation. International Accreditation is valid for five years. To renew accreditation status, the agency must submit a revised copy of the self-assessment documents to the Commission and successfully complete an on-site peer assessment visit.
Is it really worth the effort???
Yes! Accreditation takes a lot of work but is well worth the effort. A process covering such a broad range of services and programs cannot be easily completed. The largest portion of time required to achieve accreditation is the self-assessment process. Data gained from the testing and research accreditation model estimates 700 to 1000 staff hours to complete the entire process. While this time commitment and the corresponding financial commitment of salaries may seem overwhelming, it should be considered in relation to the outcome.
One of the concurrent benefits of the accreditation process is the development of planning documents, including short-term action and long-term strategic plans. The accreditation process, in addition to subsequent planning documents, are a valuable tool in the budgeting process as well as a basis for justifying departmental programs and services. Considering the time and financial commitment to plan and budget, the accreditation process is well worth the time!
Departments all across the country have demonstrated the usefulness of the self-assessment process and accreditation model. Accreditation is what you make of it. It has the potential to dramatically improve your department, your services and your way of thinking into the future.
What has Accreditation done for STFPD1 so far?
Since registering, STFPD1 has completed a Self Assessment, a Strategic Plan, reviewed and revised the Employee Handbook, Standard Operating Guidelines and the Policy and Procedures Manual. In addition to these accomplishments, the accreditation process has resulted in many internal improvements including 100% NIMS compliance and exhibit gathering and documentation. STFPD1 conducted a fire and non-fire risk assessment of geographic planning zones in order to establish standards of response coverage strategies. The results of the risk assessment were published in a written study. Standards of response coverage strategies were written to address identified levels of risk submitted.
STFPD1 completed all the required documents, passed the onsite evaluation and validation by a peer assessment team and was recommended for International Accrediation. In March of 2015, St. Tammany Fire Protection District No.1 was awarded International Accreditation by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International and the Center for Public Safety Excellence Inc. This designation is valid for five years. Following Accreditation, STFPD1 will submit annual updates to CPSE regarding continual improvements made within the organization.
What is the Center for Public Safety Excellence and the Commission on Fire Accreditation International?
The Center for Public Safety Excellence Inc. oversees the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI). CFAI is an 11-member Commission consisting of representatives of population divisions within the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Insurance Industry, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), Federal and International Representatives.The mission of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International is to assist the fire and emergency service agencies throughout the world in achieving excellence through self-assessment and accreditation in order to provide continuous quality improvement and enhancement of service delivery to their communities. The purpose of accreditation is to elevate the level of performance and professionalism within the fire service through the use of a comprehensive system of assessment of the activities and programs related to modern fire and emergency services. The process of assessment will allow an agency to determine when it has achieved an appropriate level of safe and effective performance as well as efficiency as an organization.