Accreditation a difficult but rewarding process for Anaheim Fire & Rescue

By Elysse James

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The road to accreditation is long and arduous, but the reward is well worth the effort.

At Anaheim Fire & Rescue, the push for accreditation began more than seven years ago, with strict self-examination and a plan to improve.

The benefits of becoming accredited are numerous, from greater public input and agency transparency to using analytics to improve response times and increase efficiency and effectiveness.

“It’s like running a marathon sometimes, but at the end of the day it keeps the organization focused on its performance and making sure that we’re continuing to stretch ourselves to maintain a level of relevance and credibility with our community, and within the industry,” Anaheim Fire & Rescue Chief Randy Bruegman said.

Deputy Chief of Operations Jim Campbell of the Pike Township Fire Department in Indianapolis, Indiana, talks about Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s accreditation process.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The Commission on Fire Accreditation International will consider Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s reapproval in March. Once accredited, as Anaheim was in 2014, agencies are required to submit a report annually and must reapply every five years to maintain that status.

“You quantify your level of performance to your citizens, to the elected officials, and of course to the city management team,” said City of Fairfax Fire Chief John O’Neal, who led the four-member peer review team that was on-sight to review AF&R in November. “I think it helps you to demonstrate to the public that you’re doing the right things and that you are good stewards of public funding and that you are meeting industry best practices.”

Agencies create a Strategic Plan that examines where the agency is and where it wants to be, along with a plan for improvement, and a Standards of Cover document that examines deployment of resources, as well as a self-assessment of 10 categories encompassing 252 performance indicators ranging from governance to fire risk to fire investigation to public education and more.

“The whole basis for the accreditation process is continuous improvement, so you can do something once and it can be very good at that time, but if you don’t continue to evaluate yourself and measure your performance you can easily slip back,” Bruegman said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue Division Chief Alan Long talks about the department’s accreditation process.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The peer review team analyzes and verifies Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s self-evaluation and improvement plans and provides feedback to the agency. O’Neal, who heads the team, has led two fire departments through the accreditation process, mentored seven agencies getting accredited for the first time, and has visited 20 hopeful agencies.

The peer reviewers are all volunteers from fire agencies across the nation, with about 40 team leaders and about 200 peer assessors total for the organization. The team evaluating Anaheim Fire & Rescue includes O’Neal; Nathan Schooling, Deputy Chief for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma; Dr. Byron Kennedy, First Deputy Chief for the Atlanta Fire Department in Georgia; and Jim Campbell, Deputy Chief of Operations for Pike Township Fire Department in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Having measurable data supports the department’s requests for funding that can create valuable and life-saving upgrades, such as moving a fire station, buying new fire apparatus, or initiating new programs and services for the community.

The accreditation process also gives a voice to the community and to fire employees who are invited to weigh in on how the agency moves forward, Campbell said.

“I truly believe that every agency should go through accreditation. The transparency and accountability it provides residents is second to none,” said Anaheim Fire & Rescue Division Chief Alan Long, who manages the agency’s accreditation process.

In Anaheim, this continuous evaluation has already seen benefits to residents – including an improved distribution and concentration of resources. This was accomplished by relocating one station and identifying the need to build two more.

Fire Chief John O’Neal of Fairfax, Virginia, talks about Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s accreditation process. The department is up for reaccreditation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Using a computer program that creates accurate response time simulations for more than 100 models, the department was able to prove that moving one station (with plans to build two more) would decrease response times to emergency calls throughout the city, Long said.

The agency also changed the way it analyzes response times.

Prior to accreditation, Anaheim Fire & Rescue compiled average response times. But that’s not as accurate, Long said, as using fractal measurements, which show how the agency performs 90 percent of the time.

“Anaheim is extremely dynamic,” Long said. “We are so dynamic from day to day that you have to constantly be evaluating what you do to see if it’s efficient.”

Long said the city’s fast growth has caused an increase in call volume. The agency’s challenge now, he said, is keeping up with the need for service.

“In a span of five to six years there was a 20.5 percent increase in call volume,” Long said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue has also bolstered its wildland firefighting training and equipment to fight wildfires, such as the Canyon 2 Fire that raged through the area recently, Bruegman said. Among the improvements, Anaheim Fire & Rescue added the use of goats ­– a hit among residents – to decrease fire risk.

“It’s very easy to rest on what you’ve done in the past,” Bruegman said. “But if you’re not focused on where you’re going in the future and have a good game plan on how you’re going to get there, it’s very easy to become complacent. And when you become complacent, you become vulnerable.”

Accredited agencies, Bruegman said, adapt quicker to changes than other agencies because they are constantly evaluating their performance and making tweaks to stay on top of industry standards.

“I get to meet some of the best people in the industry because fire departments that pursue accreditation are trying to move their organizations forward, they believe in best practices, and are usually doing some really good things in their community,” O’Neal said. “I always learn from that.”

People line up as they get ready to pet the goats in front of Anaheim Fire & Rescue 10 during a Baby Goat Party in June 2018. The goats are used to clear brush and reduce fire risk.
File photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

For Anaheim Fire & Rescue, that includes professional development to ensure personnel are highly trained and a strong succession plan preparing employees for promotion.

“Every day that you go to work, you have the opportunity and typically multiple opportunities to help people in need,” said O’Neal, who was inspired to join the fire service as a child when he visited the fire station on his paper route. “And I don’t think there’s any better job out there than this for that reason.”

Anaheim Fire & Rescue is one of 259 accredited agencies, and is one of fewer than 71 that have received both accreditation and the Class 1 ISO rating.

“That’s a pretty elite group and we’re very, very proud that we’re in that group,” Bruegman said. “It took a lot of work to get there.”

When people ask why Anaheim Fire & Rescue is working to maintain accreditation, Bruegman asks if they would send their son or daughter to a university that was not accredited or to a doctor that wasn’t credentialed.

They always answer “absolutely not.”

“Why wouldn’t you expect your fire and rescue service, that you’re going to call at one of the worst times of your life, to not be at the same level of excellence that you require out of your university, your local hospital, the doctor that you go to, or the people that are teaching your kids?” Bruegman asks. “That is exactly why the organization undertook this process, to develop a continuous improvement mindset within the agency to continue to deliver the best possible services for the residents, businesses, and those who visit Anaheim.”

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