The accreditation process includes four major levels: registered agency, applicant agency, accreditation candidate, and accredited department. These levels allow a department to move through the CFAI process and achieve accreditation. The CFAI encourages departments to join the CFAI network as registered agencies even if they do not intend to pursue accreditation in the short term.
The process begins by applying for registered agency status and paying an application fee. Registered agency status is valid for three years and includes manuals, information and access to the CFAI accreditation program. During this stage, the fire department must also assign an accreditation manager who is the fire department’s point of contact and who must attend the complete CFAI workshop series for the department to progress to the next step.
Once the accreditation manager and others are trained and oriented to the process, the department may proceed to applicant agency status. This requires another fee that is based on the population served by the department. This one-time fee, unless there is a lapse in status, can range from $2,500 to $10,000. Applicant agency status is valid for 18 months for career departments and 24 months for fire departments that are 90 percent or more volunteer.
The entire self-assessment process can take from one to three years of dedicated work. After a long self-assessment and planning process, the department will enter candidate agency status, and the commission will send a peer assessment team of three to five people from outside the state to conduct an on-site assessment. This on-site assessment includes a week long review of water supply systems, fire safety inspections, firefighter training records, dispatching procedures, financial planning, apparatus maintenance and many other operational topics. There are no fees associated with this part of the process although the requesting fire department is responsible for the expenses of the peer assessment team.
After almost a week of peer review, the peer assessment team will compile a report to CFAI either recommending accreditation or recommending that additional work be conducted before accreditation. If accredited, the fire department will be presented with the certification by the commission at a semi-annual CFAI meeting and will join the elite group of accredited fire departments.
Fire department accreditation is valid for five years. Within 45 days of the anniversary date of accreditation, the department must submit an annual compliance report with its yearly maintenance fee. On the fifth anniversary of the award of accreditation, the department submits the application for re-accreditation. The department will submit a revised copy of the self-assessment to the CFAI and go through another on-site peer assessment process. The agency is then brought to the commission for reaffirmation of accreditation.
This might seem like a lot of work and a significant financial obligation; although, after completing the accreditation process, securing a comprehensive self-assessment management document, and making improvements within the department, most will agree the time and money are well spent, and the fire department is more efficient and effective in its operations..