Performance Evaluation Categories
The Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) accreditation model includes these performance evaluation categories:
- Assessment and Planning
- Essential Resources
- External Systems Relations
- Financial Resources
- Goals and Objectives
- Governance and Administration
- Human Resources
- Physical Resources
- Training and Competency
Each category includes a measure or index on which a judgment or division can be based, as well as indicators that define the desired level of ability to perform a particular task.
The Accreditation model includes a comprehensive research and information collection guide with checklists, exhibits, benchmarks, references, and activities broken down by category. Several appendices address additional topics including defining the elements of response time, creating standards of response coverage, and developing master or strategic plans.
Four Steps to Accreditation
The process of achieving accreditation includes four steps or levels:
Step 1. Becoming a Registered Agency
Any fire or rescue agency may become a Registered Agency. This status allows a department to be involved with the Accreditation process at a low cost for three years. Registered Agencies gain access to the CFAI network, receive the CPSE monthly newsletter, and obtain a copy of the latest edition of the Fire & Emergency Service Self-Assessment manual, the resource on which self-assessment and accreditation is based, and a copy of the latest edition of the Community Risk Assessment: Standards of Cover. This is the time for an agency to send its fire chief and accreditation manager to the CFAI basic workshop training.
Step 2. Becoming an Applicant Agency
Agencies that are ready to make the commitment to accreditation use the Applicant Agency Status Form to notify the CFAI program manager and submit the appropriate fee. The agency then receives an Applicant Agency packet of the materials needed to proceed. While holding this status (18 months for career agencies and 24 months for volunteer agencies) an Applicant Agency is assigned a volunteer mentor via the CFAI SharePoint website to serve as a resource. A SharePoint site is created for the agency so the mentor can review document drafts and offer feedback and advice.
Step 3. Becoming a Candidate for Accreditation
Following the self-assessment process (including the community risk analysis, standards of cover, and strategic planning components) a Candidate Agency's completed documents are uploaded to the CPSE Sharepoint site for peer review. When the Candidate Agency's documents are approved, an on-site peer assessment is conducted. The peer assessment team submits a final report on its recommendation for accreditation to the agency and the commission.
Step 4. Achieving Accreditation
The commission hears the candidacy report from the peer assessment team leader in the presence of the Candidate Agency's representatives during the commission's spring or fall meeting. At this point, the commission grants, denies, or defers accreditation. Accreditation is valid for five years.
At least 45 days prior to the anniversary date of accreditation, an Accredited Agency must submit to the commission an Annual Compliance Report (ACR) with the annual accreditation fee.
To renew accreditation, an agency follows the process outlined in Steps 3 and 4 in accordance with current CFAI Policy and Procedure.
CFAI Information Technology Specifications
This document identifies the spatial and numerical data, records, and policies referenced in the CFAI accreditation model.
Special Challenges for Volunteer Agencies
Volunteer or partially volunteer agencies may face special challenges in the self-assessment process. Some common barriers and their potential solutions include:
Time Constraints. Volunteer agencies rely on their membership for staffing and administration, and these volunteers may have limited time to conduct the self-assessment process. By including good writers, great researchers, and people with institutional knowledge on the self-assessment team, an agency can make it easier to locate resources and references and ensure that the documents comprise a useful end product. In addition, the establishment of firm timelines and goals can help keep the assessment on track.
Lack of Focus. For many small agencies, self-assessment seems overwhelming. To fuel the process, concentrate on obvious problem areas and areas that will provide immediate success. The agency will not only more easily complete these parts of the self-assessment, but also see immediate positive effects from using the self-assessment document to "trouble-shoot" problems or issues and devise solutions.
High Turnover. Because small agencies often experience turnover on the self-assessment team, it is important to obtain commitment of the team and the entire department as well as the chief or leadership. This group of people needs to ensure that the process is completed properly. It may be wise to add team members who aim to advance in the department and have an incentive to stay with a process that provides a great deal of experience and departmental knowledge.
Unclear Purpose. Realizing the importance of accreditation and the self-assessment process is key to success. Volunteer departments may not understand that in the face of more community scrutiny than ever before, the self-assessment and accreditation process will help them develop compelling written plans and justifications detailing what they are doing and why they are doing it. The agency and self-assessment team need to recognize the practical benefits of investing in rigorous self-assessment.