Fire, emergency agency seeks accreditation

Posted: Tuesday, June 17, 2003

The Kenai Peninsula's Central Emergency Services has set off on what is expected to be a two- to three-year accreditation process taking an introspective look at its administration, goals and resources.

In fact, CES will be going through two accreditation processes concurrently one for firefighting and one for its ambulance services.

"It's a way to validate our department," said CES Chief Jeff Tucker. "It gives our department a strategic plan based on a national model."

Administered by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, the procedure asks the department to look at its history why its fire stations are located where they are, for instance and to look at the services the department currently provides to the community.

Those services then are compared to a national model of services provided by other departments in order for CES to strategically plan how it will similarly serve the central peninsula.

Included in the model are 10 categories departments use to evaluate their performance, including governance and administration; assessment and planning; goals and objectives; financial, physical and human resources; training and competency; and other essential resources.

"They've got 255 areas to qualify in," said Tucker.

"Specific criteria are response time, (accessibility to) legal counsel, whether we have sufficient resources to do arson investigations, support services, EMS," he said.

"First, we look at everything we currently do and how we do it. There might be things we do that are not written down. This gets us to write it down, evaluate it and do it the same way every time," he said.

"The main objective is to help us go through the process and develop a planning tool.

"It also gives a sense of pride for the department ... if we become accredited," Tucker said.

The goals of the program are to improve the ability of the department and the community to recognize their fire risks and emergency protection needs; improve the fire agency's resources and emergency service delivery systems; improve the quality of life in the communities served by the department; and give recognition for satisfactory service and a plan for improvement.

In addition to the inward look and the strategic plan developed as a result of participating, the accreditation process also can have an economic impact on the community.

"The next time the (Insurance Services Office) does its rating, it may use the accreditation process as a basis for rating the area," Tucker said. Property owners' insurance rates are based in part on ISO ratings.

At present, CES has signed on as a registered agency, under the CFAI guidelines. The next step, which is to begin in the fall, is for CES to become an applicant agency by notifying CFAI of its desire to go forward with the process, allowing CES to access technical assistance from the accrediting organization.

When the self-assessment process is complete, CES becomes an accreditation candidate subjecting itself to a peer assessment before being granted accreditation status.

To keep its accreditation status, the department must update its assessment and evaluation annually.

Every member of CES's full-time staff of 26 and on-call, paid volunteer staff of 35 will be involved in the process, which will require several hundred staff hours to complete, the chief said.

If successful, CES will be the first civilian department in Alaska to become accredited, according to Tucker. He said Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force base fire departments are involved in the process with the former already being evaluated and the latter awaiting that exam.

"Even if we don't get accredited for some reason, we still get the benefit of the self-assessment," he said.

"People who live in our service areas will be much better served as a result."

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