Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s accreditation renewed with unanimous vote


Anaheim Fire & Rescue is known as a leader among fire agencies.

The department has a reputation for innovation, excellence, and serving a dynamic community.

AF&R officials earned that prestige by constantly examining their resources, strategies, and efficiency to keep the department at its best to serve citizens – and being accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International just proves the department’s dedication to remaining a first-rate agency.

“I think Anaheim is a great department going into this process and I think this is just something that makes us that much better,” Division Chief Alan Long said.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s command staff present the department for accreditation during a conference at the Hyatt Regency in Garden Grove.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Getting accredited in 2014 was a long and grueling process involving deep dives into every single aspect of the agency, set in motion by former Chief Randy Bruegman more than eight years ago. The results of Anaheim Fire & Rescue’s analysis then were dissected and examined by officials from around the nation whose job was to uncover weak spots in Anaheim’s methods.

In the end, Anaheim Fire & Rescue received the prize: accreditation.

But AF&R officials didn’t get to relax once they achieved the goal. The commission requires agencies to reapply every five years to maintain accreditation.

In March, Anaheim Fire & Rescue did just that, for the first time.

The department’s top brass and team leader/City of Fairfax Fire Chief John O’Neal of Virginia sat before a 12-person international panel to request re-accreditation on March 12.

Retired Anaheim Fire Chief Randy Bruegman, second from right, attends the accreditation hearings for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“We found an agency and leadership team that embraces the continuous improvement model,” O’Neal told the panel in his introduction. He was the peer team leader and spent Nov. 12-16 with an accreditation team examining the department’s self-assessment.

Anaheim Fire & Rescue officials answered tough questions about keeping up with the city’s growth, the agency’s ability to inspect new buildings, and hiring challenges.

One commissioner put it bluntly: “It seems you’re struggling in some areas with your inspection process in terms of keeping up with the pace of growth, with commercial in particular.”

But Anaheim Fire & Rescue countered by explaining its plan.

“That has been a challenge for us to keep up with all the new construction and all the state-mandated buildings that we do need to inspect,” Interim Fire Chief Pat Russell told the panel. “We are in the process of looking at additional inspectors to help handle the workload as well as using some of our cadets to go out and do the low-level business inspections that they can… But that is definitely a challenge for us with the amount of new infrastructure that’s going on.”

Commissioner Chief Steve Dogworth sits with other board members during accreditation hearings for various fire departments.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

The commissioners asked Anaheim City Manager Chris Zapata about the city’s budgetary support for hiring, equipment and other resources.

“Anaheim is experiencing great growth,” Zapata said, noting that a new fire station is planned for the Platinum Triangle area near the Honda Center and Angel Stadium. The city also plans to update its emergency operation center, which Zapata said is “a little dated.”

“I feel very comfortable and confident that we have the support of the city manager, other department heads in the city, as well as the elected officials,” Russell told the panel. “Anaheim has a long tradition of being a very progressive and trend-setting fire department… Whoever the next fire chief is, going through the process, will get a feel very quickly for the challenges of our organization and how much we need to have that innovation and that type of mindset to keep up or excel like we have.”

After the hearing, Bruegman said: “I think they asked some very intuitive questions and I think the team did a really good job. We’re very proud of them.”

In the end, the 12-person international panel voted unanimously to approve accreditation for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.

“I think it’s really important that this is Anaheim’s way of becoming better at what we do, providing a certain amount of transparency that’s second to none,” Long said.