Fire Accreditation Deferral: Failure or Opportunity?

By Rick DeGroot
Deputy Chief/Accreditation Manager, Summit (NJ) Fire Department

I recently returned from a trip to Fire-Rescue International (FRI) to testify before the Commission on Fire Accreditation International on behalf of my fire department. We were seeking a deferral for our effort to achieve accredited agency status. Chief of Department Joseph Houck and I traveled to Chicago, Illinois, with the hope that following the delivery of our peer assessor report we would be granted additional time to complete our pursuit of accredited status. We both shared a deep concern that weaknesses in our Standards of Cover (SOC) document, specifically the validity of response time data due to lack of a computer-aided dispatch system, would disqualify us from completing the process.

Our peer assessor team leader worked with us to formulate a plan that included a strategy for obtaining and properly validating the available response data. We also were able, following the presentation of the peer assessor report to our local governing body, to obtain adequate funding to purchase a CAD system.

Armed with this strategy, we appeared in front of the commission and were successfully granted a one-year deferral. While many agencies might consider this outcome a failure and would be tempted to walk away from the process, I was very encouraged by the comments from several of the commission members. They complimented us on our commitment and resolve to continue the process and how our appearance in front of the commission spoke volumes about our agency.

We are now busy with upgrading our documents to the 8th Edition of the Fire & Emergency Service Self-Assessment Manual (FESSAM) and improving our SOC. We are also fast tracking the selection and implementation of a new CAD system to help us better validate our response data. We feel confident that given the additional time, we will complete the process and look forward to appearing in front of the commission next year.

While many accreditation managers might view deferral as a failure and would be discouraged from continuing the process, I view deferral as an opportunity. While I don’t know if my agency will ultimately achieve accredited status, I do know that my department has benefitted greatly from the process. Too often, we are overwhelmed by the daily pressures of running our agencies; Budgets, administration, training, fire prevention, emergencies, and all of the other myriad responsibilities of running a modern response agency conspire to distract us from examining our department in an objective manner. Sometimes we need to step back and look at what we do, how well we do it, and ask the most important question: does it meet the needs of the community? Sometimes this introspective look can be both painful and enlightening.

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