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The Case for Implementing Texas Fire Chiefs Association Best Practices – Part 3 – The Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices Recognition Program – What Is It?

07 Feb

TFCA Best Practices - LogoYesterday we explored Everett Rogers theory of Diffusion of Innovation to get a handle on how innovations are accepted and adopted by social groups. Today we will look at what the Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices Recognition Program is and tomorrow we will look at why it is important for your fire department to embrace.

IFD_&_NFPA_1710In Recommendations to Bring the Irving Fire Department Into Compliance with NFPA 1710 the data analysis found that the Irving Fire Department is providing adequate emergency services to the citizens of Irving. However, the policy analysis revealed administrative practices needed to be overhauled and updated in order to come into compliance with national standards for fire departments and the current business practices of the City of Irving.

To begin overhauling these administrative practices I made ten policy recommendations, eight procedure recommendations and six performance recommendations. The primary policy recommendations hinged around working toward accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI); the development of an organizational statement consistent with NFPA 1710; the development of a strategic plan; and working to achieve the recommendations of the NFPA, CFAI and ISO when evaluating efficiency and effectiveness. To that end, the first policy recommendation stated:

The Irving Fire Department should consider a commitment to actively work toward accreditation from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) and the development of an organizational statement that is consistent with the elements specified in NFPA 1710.

When Recommendations to Bring the Irving Fire Department Into Compliance with NFPA 1710 was first published in March 2012, The Texas Fire Chief’s Association (TFCA) Best Practices Recognition Program did not exist. The Best Practices Recognition Program was developed by fire service professionals from across the State of Texas to assist fire departments with developing efficient and effective emergency service delivery programs for their communities. This program is a self-evaluation that looks at 117 Best Business Practices in 12 categories for fire departments in the State of Texas. The program was not introduced until the Texas Municipal League conference in November 2012 where it became the first state level fire department accreditation program in the country. With the introduction of this new Texas program, a first step toward CFAI accreditation had become available.

The categories evaluated by the TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program are:

  1. Administration and Organization
  2. Emergency Medical Service
  3. Training
  4. Special Operations
  5. Records and Information Management
  6. Fire Operations
  7. Fire Prevention, Risk Reduction and Community Outreach
  8. Response Analysis
  9. Communications
  10. Safety and Health
  11. Resource Management
  12. Professional Standards and Conduct

Having received a preview of the Best Practices program from TFCA President Chief Robert Isbell, I attended the TML conference and volunteered to be the Best Practices Program Manager for the Irving Fire Department. While the TFCA program is not as extensive as CFAI accreditation, I recognized it would provide the Irving Fire Department with a solid first step in actively working toward accreditation from CFAI and developing an organizational statement consistent with NFPA 1710. By using the Best Practices criteria, our fire department was able to look objectively at our administrative practices; at the way we SAY we operate; at the way we ACTUALLY operate; and at the policies, procedures and performance measures that drive our organization.

Organizing the 117 Best Practices

As the Program Manager, I asked to be taken off of shift work and assigned to fire administration. I was also appointed as an Interim Battalion Chief to facilitate the assignment of the 117 criteria to the members of our fire department who were considered subject matter experts. I analyzed the criteria and assigned the best member of our department to read the individual criteria, compare our current practices to the requirements of the criteria, make or recommend changes to our policies and procedures that would bring us into compliance with the criteria and provide the proofs of compliance necessary to meet the criteria when evaluated by the TFCA.

Explaining the Value of the Best Practices Program

Being a brand new program, I understood that there would be several questions from line and staff personnel about the validity and importance of the program. I scheduled time into my afternoons to visit EVERY fire station on EVERY shift to answer any questions that our members may have about the program or about the changes to our policies and procedures that were actively being made. Some of the questions that came up were:

  • What are we going to get out of it?
  • Is this a fire department Baldridge award?
  • Is this just about getting a plaque to hang on the wall?
  • Isn’t this just about getting stickers to put on the trucks?
  • Isn’t this just a way for Chiefs to beef up their resumes?
  • Who made up the criteria for the program?
  • Who else has this award?
  • How is this going to make us better?
  • Isn’t this just going to show our weaknesses?
  • Won’t this just cause more work for us?
  • What’s it costing us to do this?

I found all of these questions to be valid and felt the members of the department deserved straightforward answers. I stayed at the station as long as the conversation remained constructive but always left by telling them to feel free to ask me any questions that came up after I left. Some of the stations called and I repeated my visit to those stations and shifts.

The TFCA Best Practices Workflow Tracking Tool

To manage the simultaneous workflow of all program criteria, the TFCA Best Practices Workflow Tracking Tool was developed using Microsoft Excel 2010. This Excel workbook uses features that are only available in Microsoft Excel 2010 or newer versions. A generic version of the TFCA Best Practices Workflow Tracking Tool I created for the Irving Fire Departments completion of the TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program is available for download by CLICKING HERE.

The first tab of the workflow tracking tool includes the training requirements for the Fire Chief and the Program Manager. Required training is provided at annual conferences and in regional training programs around the state. A list of upcoming training programs is maintained on the Best Practices Program website at www.BestPracticesTexas.org. Clicking in the status box provides a drop down list of options to track the fire departments movement toward completion of each training objective. Three of the training objectives are required and one of the training objectives is recommended. As the training is scheduled and completed the status can be updated and a box is provided to track applicable dates.

Status_Summary_BoxAlso on the first tab of the tracking tool is a status summary box that tracks the fire departments movement toward completion of the program criteria. As the fire department moves through the process of completing the Best Practice Program criteria, the status from each individual criteria will be summarized on the first tab as Not Started, Researching, Waiting for Contact, Waiting for Chief, Waiting for Council, Waiting for Manager or Completed. As the status is changed for each criterion on the 12 category tabs, the summary on the first page will be automatically updated to provide an executive summary that is available at a glance. (Again, Microsoft Excel 2010 or newer is required for this functionality.)

Each of the 12 category tabs provides a description of the criteria, identifies the contact person that criteria Status_Drop_Down_Menuis assigned to, provides contact information boxes for easy reference, provides a status box with a drop-down menu arrow to track movement toward completion, provides a due date box to track program completion goals and provides a notes box to indicate information pertaining to the completion of that specific criteria. (Extensive use and updating of the notes box proved to be invaluable in tracking the progress of numerous criteria over a 14 month process.)

Electronic Files

The TFCA allows for the use of paper files or electronic files. Both types of files were kept for our department and our experience identified difficulty keeping the paper files up to date with the rapidly occurring edits to policies, procedures, photographs, and other documents used to meet the various Proofs of Compliance. Electronic files allowed for remote administration of the files from any internet connected computer. As the Program Manager, electronic files also allowed me to keep a master file of all of the necessary program documents, keep a backup of all of the necessary program documents and easily update the files that were available to the entire department with the most current information.

The electronic file system divided the 12 Best Practices categories into folders. Each of those 12 folders contained a sub-folder for each of the Best Practice criteria and an additional sub-folder for follow-up email pertaining to that category. Some individual criteria had their own follow up email sub-folders to document the communication time lines necessary for timely completion of the program.

Best_Practices_Electronic_File_System

The individual criteria folders contained the individual program criteria with the description of the criteria, discussion about the criteria, recommendations about the criteria and Proofs of Compliance needed to complete the criteria. The Document Submission Form (DSF) was included in the folder and a subfolder with supporting documents was also contained in the folder.

During the on-site evaluation by the Best Practices evaluation team, electronic files provided a centralized location for all of the evaluators to access simultaneously. Electronic files also facilitated portability with the use of flash drives.

The Electronic File System I created for the Irving Fire Departments completion of the TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program is available for download by CLICKING HERE.

Submitting the Completed Document Submission Forms (DSF’s)

As documents were gathered, scanned or created they were placed into the appropriate folders. Once all of the Proofs of Compliance were met for an individual standard the Document Submission Form was completed using Microsoft Word.

Once the DSF was completed, all documents except the Best Practice criteria and the individual Best Practice criteria DSF were moved to the Supporting Documents folder. All completed DSF’s were converted to PDF files for portability and universal access by any operating system. Completion of the DSF also triggered changing the Status on the Workflow Tracking Tool to “Completed.” (The status boxes in the Workflow Tracking Tool are also conditionally formatted to change color depending on the status selected. Selecting the Completed status changes the status box to Green indicating it is good to go!)

After completing all of the Best Practice Criteria, contact was made with the TFCA Executive Director and a DropBox was established to upload all of the completed files. Other options are available for submitting the documents; however, use of electronic files facilitates the use of the files by a geographically dispersed work group of evaluators.

Uploading the files to the dropbox allows the Best Practice evaluation team to access the files. Review assignments were made for the evaluators scattered across the state and the process of evaluation begins. Multiple evaluators review the DSF’s and the evaluators exchange comments about the DSF’s.

Two site visits are then scheduled for the candidate department.

Initial Site Visit

The initial site visit was by an evaluator from our area of the state. This visit was to identify any deficiencies found with our submissions. The evaluators had looked at all of our submissions and had identified compliance with the individual criteria, weaknesses with individual criteria or even deficiencies in individual criteria.

The purpose of the initial site visit was to provide feedback on our submissions and allow us an opportunity to improve any submissions that may not meet the standard established by the criteria.

Second Site Visit

The second site visit is by an evaluation team from other parts of the state. This visit was an inspection of our records, facilities and equipment to ensure apparatus, equipment and procedures identified in the DSF’s were deployed and used as indicated in our submissions.

Recognition by The Texas Fire Chiefs Association

Best Practices Award Presentation

The Texas Fire Chief’s Association sent representatives to a City Council Meeting to award the designation of “Recognized Best Practices Fire Department” in front of the citizens and to assure them that their fire department had been evaluated by a third party and had met the standards for career fire departments in the State of Texas. The award and designation will also be recognized at the annual Texas Fire Chiefs Executive Conference.

The Case for Implementing the Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices – Part 1 – We’ve Never Left One Burning… Why Not Keep Doing What We’ve Been Doing?

The Case for Implementing the Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices – Part 2 – Change is Hard… So How Can We Use the Theory of Diffusion of Innovation to Help Us Improve?

The Case for Implementing the Texas Fire Chiefs Association Best Practices – Part 3 – The Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices Recognition Program – What Is It?

The Case for Implementing Texas Fire Chiefs Association Best Practices – Part 4 – The Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices Recognition Program – Why It Was Important For The Irving Fire Department

 

All information contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official views of the City of Irving or the Irving Fire Department.

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