Captain Thomas Fagan, FO

Need pic of Thomas Fagan

By Thomas Fagan, FO

What is your community getting from the fire department? Do they know, really? Some departments operate based on a perception of service quality, which may not necessarily be validated. The “risk” to lives and property and its association with resources available has historically been on the shoulders of the fire chief. Unlike a business owner, the fire chief may not be in control of his or her budget. In our industry, the community is the owner and customer. The level of service a department provides is relative to capital limitations they’re authorized by the community or the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) to function. What level of service is the community funding? What is in place to tell them what this is? Some may see parallels of this type of communication to a contract for services. If this communication existed, there would need to be clear understanding, an agreement to the level of service the customer would receive.

A Standards of Cover (SOC) is defined in Community Risk Assessment: Standards of Cover 6th Edition as “Those written policies and procedures that establish the distribution and concentration of fixed and mobile resources of an organization.” These policies are relative to risk classification (Fire, emergency medical services, technical rescue, hazardous materials) and category (low, moderate, high, maximum). Here’s an example of a baseline distribution (first-due) performance objective statement:

For 90 percent of high-risk fires, the total response time for the arrival of the first-due unit staffed with two firefighters and one officer is 8 minutes and 20 seconds. The first-due unit shall be capable of providing 500 gallons of water and 1,500 gallons-per-minute pumping capacity, initiating command, establishing a water supply, advancing an attack line, and rescuing victims based on a risk assessment while considering the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) two-in/two-out rule.

What are the implications of this type of response quality, and does the community understand the risk associated? How does it compare to industry response standards such as NFPA 1710 Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments? If time is directly related to the outcomes in our business, customers should understand the implications of how time impacts outcomes for them. Based on science and data, such as the studies published by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), we understand the associations of time, flow path, and an outcome. But does the community? How does this impact the survivability profile of occupants in buildings involved with fire or a person in cardiac arrest? Multiple strategies exist to address these challenges.

Departments all over the world are pursuing excellence. In their crusade, some are using the tenets of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) model. One of the most challenging yet rewarding to the community is a pillar of this model: the publication of a Community Risk Assessment Standards of Cover (CRA-SOC). The documentation of the characteristics of your community, hazards and risks, response quality, and the plan to maintain or improve your capabilities are all objectives of a CRA-SOC.

Departments applying this model are working under the 9th Edition Fire and Emergency Services Self-Assessment Manual (FESSAM), which includes 252 Performance Indicators, 38 of which are in Category II Assessment and Planning. Four criteria in Category II align with the 6th Edition Community Risk Assessment: Standards of Cover. Two key performance indicators in Category II identify communication with the AHJ:

CFAI 2D.8 On at least an annual basis, the agency formally notifies the authority having jurisdiction (AJH) of any gaps in the operational capabilities and capacity of its current delivery system to mitigate the identified risks within its service area, as defined in its standards of cover.

CFAI 2D.9 On at least an annual basis, the agency formally notifies the AHJ of any gaps between current capabilities, capacity, and the level of service approved by the AHJ.

When departments align with these key performance indicators, the community has awareness to the level of service provided by the fire department. Clear communication of the gaps and capabilities, capacity and the level of service provided enables elected officials to effectively prioritize community initiatives through data-driven decisions. Communities can then decide when to enhance the department’s capabilities based on its standards of cover should they choose. Communities are dynamic; the business owner and customer must have a clear understanding of what the service level is and its quality. A Standards of Cover can establish this by policy.

Thomas Fagan is a peer assessor for the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), has the Fire Officer (FO) credential, and is the accreditation manager and a captain in the Lee’s Summit (MO) Fire Department.