Pax Fire Department joins elite

PATUXENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, MD—The Pax River Fire Department continues to set the standards of excellence for fire departments everywhere.

The department has been accredited by the Commission of Fire Accreditation International for meeting the criteria established through the CFAI’s voluntary self-assessment and accreditation programs. This award gives Pax River the distinction of being one of 70 stations worldwide and joins four other federal fire departments to become accredited in the United States or overseas. Those are NAS Jacksonville, NAS Keflavik Iceland, the U.S. Air Force Academy and Hill Air Force Base, Salt Lake City, Utah.

“What this means is that we’ve judged ourselves and learned what our shortcomings and our strong points are,” said Pax River Fire Chief George Kennett. “This whole thing is a process of continuous improvements. I feel like we’re in good company because we’re one of 70 departments in the world, including only three in the Navy, that have received this award.”

The role of the CFAI is to assist fire and emergency service agencies in achieving excellence through their accreditation programs. The CFAI process is voluntary except for federal fire departments, which are mandated by DoD instruction to complete the accreditation process.

The CFAI provides agencies with an improvement model assessing their service delivery and internal performance, then works with a team of peers from outside agencies to evaluate the department’s completed self-assessment.

“We’ve also been able to use the CFAI process as a proactive mechanism to plan for the future of this agency and locate areas where we can improve on the quality of the service we provided,” Kennett said.

The procedure for completing the process involved a buy-in from labor and management personnel regarding the reasons and long-term benefits of completing the self-assessment process. William Watts, the department’s station chief, was appointed accreditation manager to motivate and coordinate the process.

“The accreditation manual states that the department’s fire chief cannot handle the accreditation process,” Kennett said. “Someone else has to be appointed to handle that task.”

Key people were selected to serve as team leads to oversee development of 10 assessment categories, write a five-year strategic plan and a Standards of Response Coverage document.

About 35 station employees, including non-fire department staff, were involved in this two-year process.

“One of the most positive aspects found in this process was that the fire department staff learned more about their department and just how important their individual role is towards meeting our immediate goal,” Kennett said. “They also became familiar with the long-range goals and objectives of the department and understand why the creation of a response coverage plan can be beneficial to us.”

Because of the initial involvement of the American Management Systems in the business process modeling of several fire department functions, NAS Executive Director Tim Smith approved the extension of the AMS contract to assist with the accreditation process.

“Tim Smith was a strong supporter of this and helped us in the funding for the project,” Kennett said. “The AMS doesn’t work for free.”

The AMS was instrumental in facilitating meetings, collecting data, organizing resource materials that team members collected to support the written materials for one of the 241 applicable performance measures that had to be addressed, according to Kennett. They also handled the proper formatting of these written responses into the final manual, which eventually grew to nearly 500 pages.

A Peer Assessment Team visited the station last June to verify the effort that had taken place over the previous 18 months. The PAT was comprised of five people, two municipal fire chiefs, two Marine Corps fire service officers and a college professor.

At the conclusion of their visit, the station received deferral status for not meeting four of the 241 performance indicators.

“A deferral is quite common,” Kennett said. “Most departments get deferred the first time around. It is a very rare occasion that everything turns out fine and you get recommended right off the bat. We were fortunate to get only four deferrals.”

However, after six months worth of effort, the four performance indicators were reviewed by the PAT via e-mail and a recommendation for accreditation was received.

On Feb. 21, Kennett and Watts traveled to Jersey City, N.J., where the official vote took place before the CFAI’s semi-annual meeting.

Because of the hard work of team leads such as Joe Titus, Lorie Keller, Cathy Buckler, Joe Zienda, John Caulder, Dominick Troiano, Greg Dameron, Mike Tenaglia, Charles H. Adams, and Michael Roberts, the Pax River Fire Department joined some very exclusive company.

An annual compliance report must be submitted before the annual anniversary date to keep the CFAI office informed of any significant changes or developments in organizational function, direction, or programs.

Before the fifth anniversary of the award of accreditation, an application for re-accreditation and on-site peer assessment visit will be submitted.

“This department has set a benchmark. This award really shows the command why we need their support to our mission requirements,” Kennett said. “This is one of the biggest things to happen to this department in its 60 years of existence.”

“This accreditation is just one more item that evidences the superior esprit de corps of the NAS fire department, which is undoubtedly the finest in the Navy,” said Capt. Dane Swanson, NAS Patuxent River commanding officer. “Their hard work, dedication and commitment are readily apparent in the high level of professionalism they demonstrate every day.”

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