The Covington Fire Department recently earned international reaccreditation for the second time, a rigorous process that forces the department to analyze its operations and ensure its using best practices.
The fire department earned reaccreditation through the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), which has a voluntary self-assessment program where departments look at several aspects, including goals, finances, fire suppression and prevention, public education, equipment and buildings, training and a department’s relationship with other agencies.
April Draper, the department’s accreditation coordinator, said the fire department has to document and prove every single thing it does.
“They appraised what we’ve been doing and say whether it’s working well or if we have to change anything,” Draper said. “If you print it out, it would be a big, thick three-ring binder.”
Draper said a team of peers from other fire departments across the nation and even internationally review the documents and send back any questions or comments and then once the questions are answered, comes back out to do a three-day site visit.
Draper said the fire department learned multiple things through the reaccreditation process.
The fire department has a fire educator who works to educate the public on various fire safety tips and programs, but Draper said officials realized they didn’t really have a way to assess how effective the education programs were. The fire department is now documenting education efforts to measure their effectiveness over time.
“It’s something you don’t think about until someone suggests it. We’re working on doing some public surveys,” Draper said.
Another area the department has approved in its daily equipment checks. The firefighters check the fire apparatus and equipment every day, but the department had no standard check list with specific items that need to be checked. The department now has a more in-depth assessment.
One last area of improvement was better communication with the Covington-Newton County 911 Center. The fire department had to provide a lot of information about response times and realized it was getting average response times , not fractal response times, which is how fast a fire department responds most of the time. Now, the department is looking at fractal times monthly and communicating with the 911 center to analyze data.
“Covington is a relatively small city that has managed to attract and keep a large industrial presence that is no doubt related to the city’s commitment to the provision of a really robust water system,” said Barry McKinnon, a fire assessor who has served for decades in fire service in Canada.
“This department has truly moved from a two-man show of the past to an organization that understands and appreciates the value of continuous improvement that culminates in recognition by its peers of its worthiness for accreditation. Everyone we met, from the front-line firefighters to the communications staff and management to the city manager, seemed to understand the importance of working together to grow the organization to its full potential.”
McKinnon also congratulated the department on its recent fire education facility.
“Not until we got on site did we really appreciate how the department has renovated an existing abandoned residence into an innovative public education facility. The house has everything that is needed to provide targeted and directed education in the middle of socially disadvantaged part of town,” McKinnon said.
The fire department’s budget is more than $6 million and has 51 employees, including 45 firefighters and six administrative personnel, Draper said Tuesday. The fire department is in the process of hiring two to three more firefighters to full fill out its shifts.
The fire department runs between 2,000 to 2,500 calls per year.
The fire department has been internationally accredited since 2003. The department also is accredited through the Center for Public Safety Excellence, and Draper said Covington is one of 150 agencies to achieve international accreditation with both entities.