Elevating Excellence Through Performance Improvement Processes

By Todd J. LeDuc

In 1986, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) met to develop the concepts and design for continuous improvement of the fire and emergency services. The following year, the IAFC, upon recommendation from its membership, endorsed the development of a voluntary fire and emergency service accreditation program. Then in 1988, IAFC and ICMA signed a memorandum of understanding to begin the development process.

After a decade of hard work and cooperation, in December 1996, IAFC and ICMA executed the Master Trust Agreement, establishing the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) to award accreditation to fire and emergency service agencies and to pursue scientific research and education in the public interest. As the accreditation and research programs grew, the original trust was dissolved and CFAI was incorporated as a nonprofit organization, governed by a board of directors that oversaw two commissions: CFAI and the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation.

To reflect its larger focus and its importance to all-hazard response, the corporation’s name was changed to the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE) in March 2006. CFAI became an entity under CPSE, continuing to assist organizations in making the transition from tactical deployment to strategic response. The name of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation changed to the Commission on Professional Credentialing (CPC), reflecting the diversity of emergency services.

From the start, CPSE has brought together diverse groups and interests to guide and govern its operations. CPSE has benefited from the support and insight of representatives from IAFC, ICMA, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Insurance Services Office (ISO), and the Department of Defense (DOD).

Today, CPSE is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation and is a primary resource for the fire and emergency profession to continuously improve services resulting in a higher quality of life for communities. CPSE has successfully helped local public safety agencies around the world streamline and improve the services they provide their communities.

RELATED: Accreditation: What Does Self-Assessment Mean for Your Community?How Accreditation Benefits Your Department and the Fire Service3 Perspectives on Accreditation | Understanding THE FIRE DEPARTMENT ACCREDITATION PROCESS

Road Map to Performance Excellence

There are estimated to be approximately 30,000 organized fire departments protecting communities within the United States of America. Subsequently, after two decades of existence of the then-CFAI, fewer than 300 fire departments hold accredited status. So why is it that fewer than 1% of organized fire departments hold the distinction of accredited status? The Commission on Law Enforcement Accreditation (CALEA) estimates 3% of police agencies/departments across the United States hold their accredited status since its inception several decades ago as well. (Doerner, 2009). Again, why might it be that be that so few public safety entities pursue formal accreditation validation by external agencies? One can speculate on a host of potential rationales, but the process enables organizations to compare themselves against national best practices of the industry. In the case of fire departments, it also allows agencies to measure system performance analytically. The road map is three-pronged for agencies to guide their journey to continuous improvement.

Conduct A Self- Assessment of Where Your Department Stands

The CPSE and CFAI have self-assessment criteria that cover 10 broad categories for the good governance of a modern fire department. These criteria include governance/administration; planning; goals and objectives; financial; fire department programs (i.e. fire suppression, EMS, fire prevention, hazmat, etc.); physical resources; human resources; training; essential resources (i.e. water supply, communications, administrative support); and external relationships. Within each of these broad categories are performance indicators that are guided by national standards and guidelines for departments to compare themselves to regarding their performance. They also help identify opportunities for improvement on what measurable steps can be implemented to propel the organization to a higher level. These performance indicators, some in excess of 200, provide a framework for improving your department and each area of your department’s organization. Senior level executives can use these, as can division heads of respective areas, for creating performance improvements.

Creating a Shared Strategic Vision and Plan

One responsibility of fire department leadership is to create a strategic vision for where the organization is heading as a road map defining broad strategic goals over the next five years ahead. Holistic strategic plans are driven with input from internal and external stakeholders, often using a facilitator to walk the department through an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis). This helps a department identify its goals and then define specific objectives and timeframes to accomplish that are easily measurable and assigned to specific individuals for accountability of achievement. Organizations that are devoid of a formalized strategic vision often are reactionary in nature and simply focus on daily threats and not on big and audacious opportunities to propel themselves to that next level of “excellence.” Organizations that are admired as “best in class” are ones that can focus on strategic achievement goals and not always be distracted by more tactical challenges, which there never seems to be a shortage of.

Community Risk Assessment and Standards of Cover

It’s essential to start with a robust assessment of the different risk and levels of risk that exist within the community protected by your department. The methodology which you select to assess the various levels of risk may change by the type of risk. Fire suppression risks may differ according to the types of structures, occupancy, and protection services, among other factors. Other type risks such as hazardous materials, marine, and aircraft rescue firefighting may have a uniqueness that will require different methodologies of assessment of risk levels. Your department knows the nuances of the different types and levels of risk you face, as well as the resources needed to respond to the diverse levels and types of risk.

Once your risk levels have been identified, you should be able to clearly exhibit the number of personnel needed to effectively respond to the risks based on what tasks are necessary to be accomplished on site.

Performance can then be measured by key indicators, such as call processing times, turnout times, travel time for the first-arriving unit, and then the balance of your resource assign. These performance baselines can be used to establish response performance goals and benchmarking against regional, state, and national performance guidelines.

Get Started

The road to performance excellence starts with taking first steps. Do not let complacency become the champion of mediocracy.

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Todd LeDucTodd J. LeDuc, MS, CFO, CEM, FIFirE, is a 27-year veteran of and an assistant chief with Broward County (FL) Fire Rescue, an internally accredited metro fire department. He is also the secretary of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Association Safety, Health & Survival Board. He has a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, is a peer reviewer for agency accreditation and professional credentialing. He is a credentialed chief officer, a certified emergency manager, and a fellow in the Institute of Fire Engineers. You can reach LeDuc by email at tjlbcems@aol.com.

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