Question: Is there some kind of shorthand mechanism that any citizen, organization, institution or corporation can use to measure the effectiveness of its fire department? If there were such a tool, what would the average do with it anyway?
Answer: Significant strides have been made since the establishment of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI), under the umbrella of the Center for Public Safety Excellence. After 15 years of developing standards, CFAI was created in 1996 to provide a comprehensive assessment tool to achieve a uniform standard of excellence for the fire service. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, CFAI continues to expand its hard-won membership The challenge is converting the standards of CFAI into a language every citizen can understand.
Why would a citizen need a measuring device for a fire department? The reason is to make an informed decision about whether we continue to be a value for their money. Most of us know that we are long past the days when it can be taken for granted that the fire department will receive the resources it wants just because it asks. It would serve us well just to review, for a minute, the present environment in which we operate. There is not a business, institution or individual today that is not susceptible to measurement. In a business, there are a number of measurements we use to determine its "health". In publicly (and privately) held businesses this is standard and is usually expressed in an annual report, punctuated by quarterly updates. Consider the kind of scrutiny a successful business applies to itself on behalf of its stockholders.Discuss: Fire Service Marketing In The Public Information & Media Relations Forums on Firehouse.com
Should a public service have any less rigorous observation? The answer is obvious, yet this is not necessarily the situation. Government beauracracy has long had a reputation for overspending with the trust, yet without the rigor of a watchful public. Some in public service have used the fact that we are not a business to blur the "bottom line" discussion when asked to be accountable. The worn-out response is that "we do not turn a profit". The fact is that regardless of the profit discussion, we are critically accountable to the entire "market". It is true that we are measured in different ways. But, in the end, someone must pay the bill. The "bill" is spelled "money," from the citizens, businesses and institutions we protect.
What Does Measurement Have To Do With Me?
As a firefighter you might ask, "What does this have to do with me today as I start or end my shift?" Here's the answer: I have rarely met a firefighter who did not love what he or she was doing. Want to keep doing it? Then consider yourself to be a public service business of one firefighter. How much measured, tangible value do you bring to the department, enhancing its value to the citizens it protects? How much intangible value do you bring? This last one is really critical, because much of it depends on the value of departmental and individual relationships. How much value does your team bring to the department and to the citizens? And because we cannot be inside the heads and hearts of citizens everyday and night, much of this value depends on perception. Enter the marketing equation.
Accountability And Marketing
All of this discussion points to the following three broad areas: department accountability, organizational effectiveness, and return on taxpayer investment. Why should it be so important to the fire and emergency services? It is important because we are a completely transparent service created for the life safety needs of the entire market or jurisdiction in which we are located. We exist for our citizens, not to sell a widget and make a profit. The fire service should always be in a position to reveal our entire service mechanism if asked. We should be able to justify every area of our service for the investment of taxpayer money. This justification must be "bullet-proof". The more the citizens can understand what we do, the easier for them to support our efforts, provided we present it to them in terms they understand.
So what does "accountable" mean? It means different things depending on who is asking the question. Think about the way people purchase a service or product. Some people want to know everything about their purchase. These people will research every aspect, poring through information from Consumer's Report to word-of-mouth from present and former customers. They will then determine if the cost for the service or product is truly a fair investment for the potential result. Then, there are those people - usually most people - who just want to be sure that the service is of a quality standard to fulfill their needs without any research into the subject. These folks usually rely on word-of mouth coupled with a few basic and agreed upon standards for measurement.
The Balanced Scorecard
In the early 1990's Dr. Robert Kaplan and Dr. David Norton of the Harvard Business School developed a strategic management and measurement system called "the Balanced Scorecard." Recognizing some of the weaknesses and vagueness of previous management approaches, the balanced scorecard approach provides a clear direction toward what companies should measure to "balance" the financial viewpoint. The balanced scorecard is a management system - not just a measurement system - that enables organizations to clarify their vision and strategy and translate them into action. Then, it provides feedback around both the internal business processes and external outcomes in order to continuously improve strategic performance and results.
The balanced scorecard suggests that the business leaders and employees view the organization from four perspectives: learning and growth, business process, customer perspective and financial performance. Then it prescribes that the business should develop metrics, collect data and analyze it according to each of the perspectives. The value of these measurements provides strategic feedback to show the present status of the organization from many perspectives for decision makers. The key areas are:
- Diagnostic feedback into various processes to guide improvements on a continuous basis.
- Trends in performance over time as the metrics are tracked.
- Feedback around the measurement methods themselves, and which metrics should be tracked.
- Quantitative inputs to forecasting methods and models for support systems.
Applying The Balanced Scorecard Concept To Emergency Services: ISO and CFAI
There are two key organizations that measure the quality and ability of a fire department: ISO and CFAI. The Insurance Services Organization (ISO) rating has been used over the past 50 years predominantly to measure the strength and preparation of a fire department's resources (physical and human) to deliver its service to the community. Its significant use is tied to the community through the discount an insurance company gives to businesses in the jurisdiction that the fire department protects. The lower the ISO rating from one to 10, the better the quality of the service as it affects the department's ability to protect the community.
The mission of CFAI is to assist fire and emergency service agencies in achieving excellence through self-assessment and accreditation. The purpose of CFAI is to support continuous improvement and enhancement of service to the community. CFAI seeks to understand the underlying reasons for the success of a department as well as provide a roadmap to achieving service excellence. The model for this process includes ten performance categories:
- Governance and administration
- Assessment and alanning
- Goals and objectives
- Financial resources
- Physical resources
- Human resources
- Training and competency
- Essential resources
- External system relationships
Among these ten categories there are 255 performance indicators, 118 of which are core competencies, such as water supply, prevention programs and staffing levels. Presently, there are 113 fire departments that have received the prestigious accreditation designation. CFAI is blazing a trail of quality and credibility for the fire and emergency services.
However, CFAI should consider developing a "balanced scorecard" conceptually along the lines we have discussed in this article. This would be a sort of "shorthand" so that any citizen, business or institution within a department's jurisdiction will know how accreditation relates to the quality of the protection from their department 24 hours a day, year after year. Perhaps there is a way to describe measurements for each of the 10 key categories so citizens and local public officials can understand how the department in their community applies them directly to the protection it provides. These are simply ideas to consider as we continue to refine the CFAI process in the near future.
For additional information about CFAI or to apply for the accreditation process, contact:
CFAI, Program Manager
4501 Singer Court, Suite 180
Chantilly, VA. 20151
Toll Free: 866-866-2324, ext 201
Additional Measurements For Considerationfirecom1@aol.com
For further reference there is a new book on the market that addresses this subject: The Balanced Scorecard For Government And Non-Profit Agencies by Paul R. Niven published by John Wiley.
Ben May, a Firehouse.Com and Firehouse Magazine contributing editor, has been developing the discipline of fire and emergency services marketing management for the past 15 years. He has been a firefighter for Montgomery County, MD, Fire and Rescue and fire commissioner for the Woodinville, WA, Fire and Life Safety District. May holds a bachelor's degree in public affairs from the University of Oklahoma and a master's degree in international communication from the American University in Washington, D.C. He has been a vice president of two international marketing firms over the last 25 years, and now is responsible for business development for Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort. You can e-mail Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org