Fire Dept. recognized by CFAI as accredited agency

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The Commission on Fire Accreditation International recognized the 436th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department as an accredited emergency response agency Aug. 17, 2016, in Houston, Texas, becoming the first agency in the state of Delaware to achieve this rating.

Today, there are 239 agencies accredited by the CFAI in recognition of their dedication to excellence, meeting the needs of their communities and focus on self-improvement. Of those, only 30 are Air Force active duty or Reserve units, just 12 percent of Air Force fire departments.

“The CFAI deemed us an accredited agency, which means we met the criteria they established through a voluntary self-assessment and accreditation program,” said Thomas Krass, 436th CES Fire Department crew chief and accreditation manager. “We devoted years and many hours of work to reach this milestone. We’re all really proud to be acknowledged for our hard work, and we know we’re able to meet the needs of our community better today than we could when we started this process.”

The fire department began the accreditation process more than three years ago. It was a long, arduous process, requiring self-evaluation of every section in the department, all documents, strategic plans and the unification of all forms into one overarching Standard of Cover.

The department also had to complete more than 250 line items and demonstrate competence in nearly 100 core tasks to be eligible for accreditation. Any discrepancies required documentation including an improvement plan. The department met all the requirements for accreditation.

“It was a long, long process, but it allowed us to get a better handle on every aspect of our department,” Krass said. “We took a long hard look at every process in our unit to make sure we were performing the way we said we were and our methods were the best practices to provide the best possible service to our community.”

To ensure the department’s actual performance reflected the standards recorded in the accreditation application, a peer assessment team was sent to evaluate the team for one week.

The four-person team, comprised of fire chiefs from Vermont, North Carolina, Italy and an ex fire chief who now works for CFAI, arrived in May, Krass said. They left with 14 recommended improvements and a recommendation to meet with the CFAI board in Houston, Texas.

Chief Master Sgt. Andy Morris and Joseph Mriss, 436th CES Fire Department fire chief and deputy fire chief respectively, and Krass flew down, in August, to meet the board.

Krass said that’s when the pressure really turned up.

“It was very nerve-racking,” Krass said. “We put in a lot of work just to get there, and then we had to justify our work to this panel of [12] experts [and the Air Force Fire Chief]. We didn’t want to blow it on behalf of everybody at home counting on us to get the job done. We all knew how much work we’d put into this, how much we’d improved. Now we had to validate ourselves to this panel.”

Adding to the stress, the live-broadcasted interview was viewed by approximately 1,500 fire professionals across the world, including about 25 members of the 436th CES Fire Department.

The panel asked several questions about the recommendations left by the peer assessment team, including civilian hiring practices and finding new ways to meet community needs. When they were satisfied, the representatives from Team Dover were presented a CFAI accreditation plaque.

“In one sense, achieving accreditation is a finish line, but it’s actually just the starting point,” Morris said. “They gave us the tools to start improving our processes, and we intend to follow this model for years to come. If you never stop looking for ways to improve, you never go stagnant.”

In the spirit of continued self-evaluation and improvement, the department reached out to the community to see what is expected of them. Some members have already become certified to install car seats and others have earned medical qualifications to provide care for special needs children. The department is also pursuing an Insurance Service Organization rating, which would help decrease insurance prices for community members.

The department will also be hosting a First Responder Special Needs Day so exceptional family members can interact with first responders in small groups intended to be less stressful than block parties and other events first responders attend.

“You can learn a lot from looking in the mirror,” Morris said. “If you see something on your face, you wipe it off. That’s what this program does. It makes you take a long hard look at your department and provides a benchmark for excellence.”

Morris said all Air Force fire departments are currently working toward accreditation.

“It’s a difficult task,” Morris said. “You’ve got to have people who want to do it, and we wanted to do it. This team really wants to meet the needs of the community. That’s why I’m so proud of them. We believe what we do. I can’t wait to see what’s next!”