On August 27th, 2015 the Wauwatosa Fire Department was awarded accredited status by the Commission on Fire Service Accreditation International (CFAI)! This accomplishment represents the culmination of a four year project that required the creation of a Wauwatosa Accreditation Team led by Assistant Chief Scott Erke as Accreditation Manager. The process itself, which is overseen by the Commission, requires a fire department to insure that it has a minimum of three years of accurate response time data which is then used to create a Standard of Cover (SOC). The focus of the SOC is to identify how long it takes the agency to respond to different types of emergencies with appropriate apparatus and staffing. CFAI has established expected response time parameters which differ depending on the type community protected. For instance, Wauwatosa is considered an urban community due to its population per square mile. The SOC is also used to determine whether current fire station locations are appropriate.
The three other required components of the fire service accreditation process are the Strategic Plan, the Community Risk Analysis, and the Self-Assessment Document. The Wauwatosa Fire Department has published a new Strategic Plan annually since 2012 but this was the first time a risk analysis has been performed. The goal of this analysis is to insure that the number of apparatus and personnel our computer aided dispatch (CAD) sends to an incident are appropriately matched to the level of risk we are protecting. Meanwhile, the Self-Assessment Document forces a fire department to perform a 360 degree review of its internal processes to ensure the organization is following best practices in ten categories that are broken into 253 performance indicators (PI). The end result is essentially a turnkey manual that grades the agency in areas such as human resources, assessment and planning, training and competency, emergency services, etc.
Following the development of the required documents and exhibits the Wauwatosa Fire Department hosted a site visit by four Accreditation Peer Assessors that were brought in from Vermont, South Carolina, Michigan, and Illinois. These Peer Assessors, who work full time at other fire departments, had first reviewed and validated Wauwatosa’s accreditation documents remotely. Once they agreed that everything seemed to be in order a site visit was arranged to allow them to verify their findings in person. The site visit lasted four days during which time they interviewed Fire Department personnel as well as the City Administrator, Water Utility Director, and the Medical Director for Milwaukee County EMS. They also visited fire stations, audited training records, reviewed policies, etc. At the conclusion of their trip they met with all stakeholders to explain their findings and to issue their decision regarding the Fire Department’s request for accredited status. The result was that the Peer Assessors unanimously recommended that the Wauwatosa Fire Department go before the Commission on Accreditation.
As the final step in the process Assistant Chiefs Scott Erke and Jim Case, Mayor Kathy Ehley, and Chief Ugaste appeared before the Commission in Atlanta on August 27th. The Commission, which is made up of eleven representatives from both the fire service and external stakeholders, convenes twice each year. After asking several questions to insure the credibility of our Fire Department the Commissioners voted unanimously to award accredited status. At the completion of the CFAI Hearings there were only 218 fire departments worldwide that have achieved and maintained this status.
In closing, the accreditation process has caused us to become a stronger organization and to become more data driven in our decision making process. It also has provided our citizens and elected officials with an independent third party review or report card if you will, that validates the many things we are doing well as an organization and identifies deficiencies we need to address. Needless to say, I am very proud of our Accreditation Manager Scott Erke, the members of his Accreditation Team, and of all the personnel who make up the Wauwatosa Fire Department. We are also indebted to Mayor Ehley, Administrator Archambo, and the Alders who made this accomplishment possible. Lastly we extend our thanks to the citizens of Wauwatosa who inspire us to do great things! We exist to serve and protect you.