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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

08 Feb

TFCA Best Practices - LogoYesterday we talked about what the Texas Fire Chief’s Association Best Practices Recognition Program is and discussed the tools that are available to help with organizing the workflow and filing the documents electronically. Today we’ll look at why the Best Practices Recognition Program was important for the Irving Fire Department.

The TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program has provided a blueprint of the programs, procedures & practices necessary to efficiently and effectively operate a professional 21st century fire department. The program does NOT dictate the performance standards that a fire department must meet but it does require that the fire department and local officials define the performance standards that they will meet when providing emergency services and develop the key performance indicators that allow them to determine if they are meeting the goals that they have established.

Developing an Organizational Statement

For the Irving Fire Department, the first result of entering the Best Practices Program was the development of an organizational statement. NFPA 1710 requires an organizational statement that establishes:

  • The existence of the fire department
  • The services that the fire department is required to provide
  • The basic organizational structure of the fire department
  • The expected number of fire department members
  • The functions that the fire department members are expected to perform
  • The service delivery objectives for each major service component including specific time objectives measured by the percentage of responses that meet those time objectives
  • A system to evaluate the service delivery objectives by geographical areas, and
  • Provides an annual report to the authority having jurisdiction that defines the service delivery objectives that are not being met.

The Irving Fire Department had most of these items but they had not been brought together to form an organizational statement as required by NFPA 1710. The specific time elements of the service delivery objectives did not exist and the fire department was still measuring “Average Response Times” instead of the fractile response times indicated in NFPA 1710. The elements of the organizational statement were consolidated and updated to comply with NFPA 1710.

The organizational statement will need to be refined to meet the more stringent standards of CFAI accreditation but will provide a very good starting point.

Logistics and Inventory Control

The Irving Fire Department has historically struggled with maintaining an accurate inventory of capital assets. This, of course, does not mean that we did not know how many engines, trucks, ambulances or stations we had. Capital assets are defined by the City of Irving as having an acquisition cost greater than $5,000 and a useful life greater than one year. However, capital assets can be made up of smaller parts that when combined together make up an asset that is equal to or greater than $5,000. This includes Bunker gear, hose, nozzles, SCBA, Homoltro tools, rescue tools, LifePak 15’s, LifePak 12’s, AED’s, and the list goes on… To remedy this deficiency, inventory software was acquired and the process of entering the capital assets into the inventory control system was implemented. This process is ongoing and improving as more inventory items are tracked and accounted for.

Strategic Planning

Policy Recommendation #2 in Recommendations to Bring the Irving Fire Department Into Compliance with NFPA 1710 was:

Since the City of Irving has implemented a strategic planning process that ties organizational goals and objectives to performance measures, the Irving Fire Department should actively engage in the strategic planning process, develop reasonable and measurable goals and key performance indicators, and incorporate the fire departments strategic goals into the city’s strategic plan.

Strategic PlanningThe Irving Fire Department did not have a working strategic plan prior to starting the Best Practices Program. The City of Irving had been using the strategic planning process for many years and the FY 2011-’12 strategic plan consisted of 10 goals and 65 strategies. While the fourth goal, “Set the standard for a safe and secure city,” encompasses all public safety departments in the City of Irving, of the 10 strategies listed for this goal, fire and EMS was only mentioned once. The fire department had not engaged the strategic planning process and, in essence, had been left out of the City of Irving Strategic Plan by simply not participating.

I encouraged the Fire Chief to engage a strategic planning work group consisting of the most respected fire department officers on our department. A work group was recruited and we were commissioned with developing a plan that when taken to the membership would get department wide buy-in. Our strategic planning work group received a very quick education in the strategic planning process and was tasked with providing a strategic plan that identified the needs of the fire department and provided direction for the next five years. This strategic plan would need to be a working document that would be acceptable to the Fire Chief, the City Manager and the City Council.

As a work group we met consistently for four months and developed a strategic plan that was approved by the Fire Chief, endorsed by the firefighters association and presented to the City Council for approval. This strategic plan continues to be the document that the Irving Fire Department is working from and various items in the strategic plan have been approved by the city council. The entire strategic plan has yet to receive the approval of the City Council.

Fire Department Master Plan

Master_PlanThe last master planning done for the Irving Fire Department was dated August 2002 when the City of Irving contracted with TriData to study the needs of the Irving Fire Department. Since that time, fire stations five and six have been relocated, fire station four was planned but never built and Fire Station 12 has been a regular topic of discussion.

With the help of the Irving Professional Firefighters Association and the International Association of Firefighters, a demographic and GIS study of the City of Irving was conducted using criteria from NFPA 1710 to guide the recommendations for fire station locations and apparatus placement throughout our jurisdiction. The results of this study provided coverage maps that indicated gaps in our current coverage and provided options to remedy those gaps along with an estimate of the apparatus and personnel required to make those coverage improvements.

This master planning document was also submitted to the city council for approval but is being used as a work in progress and a tool for further evaluation as our city continues to grow.

Risk Management Planning

The City of Irving has a Risk Management Department and most risk management responsibilities have historically been left to that department. As part of the Best Practices Recognition Program I conducted an in-depth study of fire department injuries and accidents.

Risk_Management_PlanThe identified risks highlighted for action in FY ‘13-’14 were:

  • Motor Vehicles
    • Speed
    • Falls from Moving Vehicles
    • Driving Safety Program
    • Driver Certification and Standards
    • Accident and Incident Review Board
    • Working Safely Near Moving Traffic
    • Health and Wellness
      • Physical Fitness
      • Rehabilitation
      • Managing Stress
      • Management Systems
        • Incident Command
        • Personnel Accountability
        • Workers Compensation

From the identified risks experienced by the members of the Irving Fire Department, frequency, severity priority and control measures were evaluated and assigned. With ongoing evaluation of the risk management program, common injuries and accidents should become readily identifiable and additional control measures will be initiated to mitigate these risks in the future.

The Risk Management Plan I researched and authored for the Irving Fire Departments completion of the TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program is available for download by CLICKING HERE.

Succession Planning

The Irving Fire Department has never had a succession plan and prior to engaging the Best Practices Program didn’t even have this term in its lexicon. For a fire department bound by Chapter 143 of the Local Government Code, succession planning takes on a different challenge than that experienced by fire departments not bound by this state law.

Initially, our thinking on succession planning hinged around the education and training requirements needed to attain the various ranks and positions within our organization. However, Chapter 143 of the Local Government Code clearly states:

A fire department employee who has civil service status under this subsection may be promoted only:

  1. By competitive examination in accordance with the competitive civil service procedures prescribed in this chapter;
  2. Within the employee’s existing division; and
  3. The examination must be entirely in writing and may not in any part consist of an oral interview.

With a competitive examination being the ONLY criteria allowed for hiring and promotion, succession planning takes on the role of prescriptive training for those that are successful on the hiring and promotional examinations.

Within the Fire Prevention Division and the Fire Suppression Division minimum requirements, expectations, documentation and performance requirements have been delineated for each rank. As a member promotes through the ranks additional training, education and certifications are required. Prior to implementing the succession plan, members of the Irving Fire Department did not have any indication or expectations to guide them in taking the next steps in their professional development. The newly implemented succession plan encourages members to increase their professional experiences, education, professional development, professional contributions, active trade association memberships, community involvement and technical competencies.

Training

Policy recommendation number seven in Recommendations to Bring the Irving Fire Department Into Compliance with NFPA 1710 stated:

Once an organizational statement is developed, the Irving Fire Department should develop a training program and policy that ensures competency based training that is consistent with the organizational statement.

Several criteria in the Best Practices Recognition Program contain a scheduled training requirement. Many of the items in the organizational statement also require regularly scheduled training components to be implemented for competency and skill retention. As a result of the Best Practices Program, the training program for the Irving Fire Department is undergoing an extensive revision. Training artifacts are being added to the fire stations and the training staff is conducting a more robust calendar of classes and drills at the training facilities.

Special Operations

Irving is very proud of our special operations teams. These teams are very well trained and equipped. While a few minor tweaks were required for some of the reporting criteria, overall our special operations teams were well within the guidelines of the Best Practices Recognition Program criteria.

Response Analysis

firestats1The organizational statement required by NFPA 1710 includes response analysis and annual reporting, by geographic area, to the authority having jurisdiction that defines the service delivery objectives that are not being met.

The Irving Fire Department made great strides in understanding our service delivery times and altered our reporting metrics from “average response times” to the currently mandated fractile response times defined in NFPA 1710. Key performance indicators with service goals were printed on large display boards and distributed to all of the fire stations. A large dry erase version of these boards is displayed on the wall in fire administration and is updated monthly with current service results.

While this is a marked improvement in response analysis, Procedure Recommendation number three in Recommendations to Bring the Irving Fire Department Into Compliance with NFPA 1710 stated:

For each of the key performance indicators (alarm answering time, alarm transfer time, alarm processing time, turnout time, and travel time) monthly reports should be published and posted in the workplaces. These reports should be formatted to report performance measures by station and shift to more accurately reflect individual unit performance that is up to the standard or individual unit performance that is substandard.

Procedure Recommendation number five in Recommendations to Bring the Irving Fire Department Into Compliance with NFPA 1710 stated:

Monthly performance measure reports should be combined to develop a written annual report for the AHJ which defines geographic areas and/or circumstances where the performance goals are not being met, the predictable consequences of these deficiencies and the action steps that are required to bring key performance indicators into compliance.

Great strides have been made in the last year with respect to response analysis but more work is ahead as we look to provide the citizens of Irving with metrics that convey more openness and transparency.

Communications

Who doesn’t struggle with communications? As a result of the Best Practices Program several communications policies and procedures were written, rewritten and then revised again. Specifically, policies pertaining to Mayday Communications, Emergency Radio Communications and the Communication Accountability Plan were sources of great discussion and debate. Policies were written and tested during live burn drills only to discover they were still lacking and needed further revision. Some of these policies seldom come into use but when they are needed there is no margin for error and must rely on intensive training to make them second nature. The Irving Fire Department will continue to develop these policies and procedures to make them more efficient and effective.

Courage to be Safe

Courage to Be SafeWhile the Courage to be Safe program is mandated for all current and newly certified Texas firefighters prior to December 1, 2015 the Irving Fire Department trained various fire officers as Courage to be Safe instructors and trained our department of over 300 members in only a few months.

This is a very important program that can save lives and reduce injuries if these practices are made an everyday priority in all of our fire departments.

Professional Standards

Many of the criteria involving professional standards were already in our rule books or covered by Chapter 143 of the Local Government Code. While Chapter 143 gives some guidance on how complaints are received, investigations are conducted, appeals are received and adjudicated and records of these events are kept, we discovered a need for more definition in these areas. These criteria were offered to the Irving Professional Firefighters Association to provide input. When the firefighters association declined, the policies were developed administratively in consultation with the city attorney.

This formerly grey, highly litigious area is now well defined by three separate procedures that are easily understood.

What did it take to complete the Best Practices Recognition Program?

For the Irving Fire Department, the process started when I approached the Fire Chief and volunteered to be the Program Manager. I then identified members of the fire department who were subject matter experts. These members of the fire department were responsible for completion of individual criteria in their area of expertise. As the program manager, I also completed several of the individual criteria, tracked completion of the criteria assigned to the subject matter experts, received and reviewed all of the criteria returned by the members of the fire department and acted as a liaison with the Texas Fire Chief’s Association. The Fire Chief may retain the responsibilities of the Program Manager and facilitate the program himself/herself; however, this is NOT RECOMMENDED. The program will explore all aspects of administrative procedure and emergency service delivered by the fire department and an additional set of objective eyes will provide a more accurate result.

Our Experience

Working through the TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program helped us take a critical look at our policies, procedures, facilities and operations. This process identified several criteria where we were quite accomplished. It also identified several criteria where we were in compliance but had little or no written policy or procedures. Other criteria needed to have policies or procedures updated and some criteria were identified that were not a part of any Irving Fire Department program but were implemented as a part of completing the Best Practices Recognition Program.

Ultimately, we found the TFCA Best Practices Recognition Program was not about earning stickers to put on the trucks or earning awards to hang on a wall. It was about highlighting our strengths and honing the areas of our service that needed to be sharpened. It was a good hard look in the mirror to find service areas that had been neglected. It was about looking at a blueprint for an effective and efficient fire department and realizing that there are policies, procedures and programs that we hadn’t even thought of that would make our fire department more effective and efficient. It was a 14 month journey that required looking at our past, present and future to make certain the citizens of Irving receive the high quality of service that they deserve and that the Irving Fire Department is capable of setting the standard for a safe and secure city.

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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