The accreditation process includes four major levels: Becoming a Registered Agency, Becoming an Applicant Agency, Becoming an Accreditation Candidate, and Becoming an 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 of $570.00. Registered agency status is valid for up to 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 an applicant agency fee that is based on the population served by the department. If the department transitions to applicant agency within one-year of becoming a registered agency, the $570.00 applicant agency fee will be applied to the registered agency fee. This one-time fee, unless there is a lapse in status, fee ranging from $4,900 to $13,600 based on entity's population. Applicant agency status is valid for up to 18 months for career departments and up to 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 assessment team members from outside the state to conduct an on-site assessment. This on-site assessment includes a 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 travel expenses of the peer assessment team. The budget associated with this travel is approximately $6,000 for the team to travel to your department as well as approximately $1,500 for the team leader to travel to the commission’s accreditation hearing. The department should also budget dollars so that the fire chief, accreditation manager, and other members of the accreditation team can attend the accreditation hearing.
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 (1/5th the current application fee). On the fifth anniversary of the award of accreditation, the department submits the application for re-accreditation. The department will begins the process beginning at the 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.