Like so many other organizations, CPSE pivoted to a completely virtual 2021 Excellence Conference. Held on March second, third and fourth, each day from 11:00 to 3:00 (Eastern), people from around the world could log in online and take part. While we certainly missed seeing everyone and catching up, this year’s conference still had an outstanding lineup of education and learning from a stellar lineup of speakers. It featured the ability to not only participate in real-time as it was unfolding, but attendees will continue to have access to all of the recorded content for 60 days afterwards. This gives everyone the opportunity to see all of the presentations, even if they were being held simultaneously.

And this also provided an unprecedented opportunity for CPSE to reach even more people and for everyone to actively participate. How many? Let’s look at some numbers:

  • 885 attendees – a 32% increase over 2020
  • 182,381 interactions (taps, views and votes cast)
  • 206 average interactions per attendee
  • 10,161 live stream views
  • 52 presenters
  • 38 education sessions

Another important metric is that by doing it virtually, paid participation was 845 people, a 153% increase over 2020.

Opening Session

The conference started with CEO Preet Bassi and Board President Jeff Pomeranz welcoming attendees and reflecting on the prior year.

“2021 marks CPSE’s 25th Anniversary, observed Pomeranz. “I have had the honor of being part of CPSE as both a commissioner and board member for 15 of those 25 years. Over this quarter century, so many of you have contributed your expertise and time to create frameworks that focus on generating high-performing, accountable, and safe fire and emergency service departments and officers.”

The 2020 Annual report covers a host of material in this transformative year, and you can read it (and all of our annual reports) on our website.

Shortly after the pandemic struck, CPSE initiated Operation Pivot to ensure that we were continuing to deliver services as seamlessly and effectively as possible. A key part of this was education, and we began an aggressive effort to turn our existing in-person events into virtual offerings. We developed and added dozens of new accreditation and credentialing videos and handouts to the CPSE University Resource Library. Over 5,000 individuals have accessed this free, on-demand content and we will continue to add new videos and handouts in 2021, so please make sure to check out the Resource Library at CPSE University.

The strategic plan CPSE has operated under for the last few years expires in 2021. Last December, the CPSE Board along with the chairs and vice chairs of both commissions and senior staff worked with an external facilitator to develop a new strategic plan. The plan addresses CPSE’s growth goals not only in the number of agencies and officers we serve but also growth in who we are as an organization. To achieve this growth, we have identified six areas of focus:

  • Greater and Broader Engagement and Collaboration
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Meaningful Brand Awareness
  • Robust Digital Strategy
  • Launching a Center of Innovation
  • Development of a Multi-Step Path to Accreditation.

You’ll hear more about this new plan throughout the coming year.

Education Sessions

The key component of the Excellence Conference is education, education and more education. Even though we were virtual, there was no shortage of sessions to pick from, and the benefit of being virtual is that the attendees can review all of the sessions online at their leisure! There were four tracks that the attendees could participate in:

  • A New Way Of… were presentations that took a new look at current issues, providing a fresh perspective on solving problems and implementing change within organizations.
  • Case Studies were examples of how people had solved some problems, ranging from small to wicked
  • 21st Century Fire and Emergency Services were a series of presentations discussing the eight sections of the white paper that CPSE and ICMA collaborated on producing that looks at the future of the fire and emergency services.
  • Accreditation Bootcamp is the incredibly popular series on how to go through the accreditation process and helpful tips along the way.


Our Keynote speaker was Gordon Graham, Board Member and Founder of Lexipol, who spoke energetically on the topic of “Making Excellence the Norm and not the Deviation.” One of the most talked about moments (on social media) was when he went over the seven rules of Admiral Rickover –

  1. Practice Continuous Improvement
  2. Hire Smart People
  3. Establish Quality Supervision
  4. Respect the Dangers You Face
  5. Train, Train, Train
  6. Audit, Control, and Respect
  7. Learn From Past Mistakes

CFAI and CPC Chair Welcome

Wednesday’s session was opened by CPC Chair Derek Bergsten (CFO, CEMSO, CTO). In his remarks, Chief Bergsten commended the work done by the commissioners for their service and dedication in advancing the continuous improvement model for professional credentialing. Chief Bergsten gave a special thank you to Commissioners Tim Bradley, CFO, and Craig Hannan for completing nine years of serving on the CPC. In addition, the work of the Commission would not have been possible without all of the time put in by the volunteers. Last year, 284 peer reviewers reviewed 902 applications volunteered 2,372 hours and through this we reached a new milestone by surpassing 2,500 designees for the first time in our history.

Thursday was kicked off by CFAI Chair Steve Dongworth (CFO) welcoming everyone and thanking the CFAI Commissioners for their work over the past year pivoting from on-site accreditation hearings to full virtual accreditation hearings. CFAI’s success was only made possible by a dedicated cadre of volunteers, and in 2020 there were 170 peer assessors working on 42 teams who volunteered 11,886 hours. Based on their efforts, the percentage of the Canadian population protected by a CFAI accredited department increased to 18% and the United States population protected to 12%. In the U.S., that means that an additional 3 million people are now protected by a fire department focused on continuous improvement.

Closing Session

On Thursday, Preet wrapped it all up and sent everyone on their way. Although it was different this year, we still had a great turnout, people were actively involved, whether it was posting on Twitter and in the Forum or taking part in the interactive sessions. This year is a major milestone for CPSE, our 25th anniversary, and we have accomplished so much in a quarter century because of everyone’s active involvement and support over the years. And this was also possible because of the incredible number of hours dedicated by the CPSE staff team in pulling together our first virtual conference – thank you!

Be sure to check out the conference highlights reel!

The Platform

To help keep attendees engaged throughout the three days, the conference website featured a photo gallery where people could post photos of themselves or patches of their departments. This was a popular and fun way to engage with attendees. Attendees also had fun playing the engagement game where points were awarded based on activity within the platform. During the conference we saw lots of activity posting to the site’s Forum and Social Feed. During the closing session Amazon gift cards were given to attendees with the top five engagement scores.

What did people have to say about Excellence 2021 in the online Forum?

“Looking forward to re-watching some of these presentations, especially the keynote from Gordon Graham. That was one of the best pieces I’ve seen.”

“Day 3 – so many great topics – tough to choose! Amazing we will be able to watch the sessions we are unable to attend later!

“Our entire accreditation core team has been in attendance this week. I am excited to see what everyone picks up and for us all to start speaking the same language!!”

“Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!!!! Well done to Preet and the team for the work you have done to go digital. You guys have succeeded in making this ‘virtual’ conference an excellent one.”

“Good to be back amongst peers, even if it is only virtually!”

CPSE Awards

As always, a high point of the conference is recognizing those people and agencies that have made significant contributions to CPSE and to their communities.

Ray Picard Award

The winner of the Ray Picard Award for 2021 was Assistant Chief Christian E. Jacobs, CEMSO from the Grissom ARB Fire Department, IN. This award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions and provided exceptional leadership to the Commission on Fire Accreditation International and the accreditation of fire service organizations.

Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award

CPSE named Fire Chief Norris W. Croom, III, CEMSO, CFO, Castle Rock Fire Department, CO, the 2021 recipient of the Ronny Jack Coleman Leadership Legacy Award. This award recognizes an individual committed to elevating the fire and emergency service profession through mentoring, teaching, advocating, and sharing outstanding contributions.

Randy R. Bruegman Agency Innovation Award

Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services in Georgia was selected as the recipient of the 2021 Randy R. Bruegman Agency Innovation Award for their High School Pathway Program. The award is presented annually to a CPSE accredited agency that has worked collaboratively within their agency and community to innovate a practice leading to improved outcomes that serve as a model for the greater fire and emergency service.

Cliff Jones Ambassador Award

In 2021, CPSE re-named the Ambassador Award in honor of Chief Cliff Jones, a former board member and long-time supporter of CPSE. the first recipient of the Cliff Jones Ambassador Award was Ricky N. Brockman, CFO, retired, Navy Fire and Emergency Services, Washington, DC. This award recognizes an individual who goes above and beyond in their support of accreditation, credentialing, and CPSE as a whole.

Michael Worthington Scholarship

The Michael Worthington Scholarship was created in honor of CPSE’s long-time former Board Member who passed away in 2015. Annually the CPSE awards up to five scholarships to officers who, like Mike, exemplify continuous improvement and encourage others to constantly grow and improve in their profession. The 2021 scholarship recipients were:

  • Lieutenant Michael Cornista, Naval Air Station Fallon Federal Fire Department, Fallon, Nevada
  • Captain Joseph T. DeRousie, Jr., Richland Fire and Emergency Services, Richland, Washington
  • Battalion Chief John F. Hoskins, Miles City Fire Rescue, Miles City, Montana
  • Assistant Chief Nicholas J. Mitchell, 119th Wing Fire Department, North Dakota Air National Guard in Fargo, North Dakota
  • Lieutenant Heidi A. Simon, South Metro Fire Rescue, Centennial, Colorado


This year’s Excellence Conference, and especially the robust functions of this virtual platform, would not have been possible without the generous support of our sponsors.

Thank you to…





NFFF Fundraiser

For those that have attended previous Excellence Conferences, you will remember the fundraiser we hold for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. CPSE strongly supports the great work that the NFFF does for the fallen and their families, and as part of our 25th Anniversary, we invite you all to help us meet an ambitious goal of donating $25,000 to the NFFF this year. If we get 1,000 individuals from the CPSE community to donate just $25 each, we will meet our goal. You can donate online to this fundraiser by clicking here, and I hope you’ll join us in celebrating our 25th Anniversary by giving back to a worthy organization.

2022 Excellence Conference

And now it is time to start looking forward to 2022. We’ll be back at the Caribe Royale in Orlando, Florida from March 22 to 25, so be sure to put it on your calendars and we’ll see you next year!