Answer: Significant strides have been made since the establishment of the Commission on Fire Accreditation International Inc. (CFAI). 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. The challenge is converting the standards of CFAI into a language every citizen can understand.
In January 2003, I wrote a column called: “Marketing the Effectiveness of Your Department.” I received over 1,000 e-mails after that column was published. Obviously, this subject is of intense interest. In my June 2004 column, as the final installment of a four-part piece on marketing, I discussed the aspects of price and value. Again, I received many responses. This month’s column will dig in even deeper to the issue of measuring departmental effectiveness and why it is so important. Finally, this column will provide ideas for a single “report card” status report for those measurements that the public can understand.
The environment. Why would a citizen need a measuring device for a fire department? Probably 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 could be taken for granted that the fire department will receive the resources it wants just because it asks for them. It would serve us well just to review, for a minute, the environment in which we operate.
There is not a business, institution or individual today that is not susceptible to measurement. A business uses a number of measurements to determine its “health.” In publicly 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. Should a public service have any less rigorous observation? The answer is obvious, yet this is not necessarily the situation.
Government bureaucracy 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 may 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? That last one is 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 every day and night, much of this value depends on perception. Enter the marketing equation.
Accountability and marketing. All of this discussion points to the following: department accountability, organizational effectiveness and return on taxpayer investment. Why should it be so important to the fire service? Because we are a completely transparent service created to meet 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.
We in 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 it is for them to support our efforts, provided we present it to them in terms they understand.
So what does “accountable” mean? It can mean 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 every purchase. These people will research every aspect, then determine if the cost of 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 1990s, 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 business leaders and employees view an 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 perspective. 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:
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 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 1 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 help fire and emergency service agencies to achieve 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 road map to achieving service excellence. The model for this process includes 10 performance categories:
Among these 10 categories there are 255 performance indicators, 118 of which are core competencies, such as water supply, prevention programs and staffing levels. Presently, 88 fire departments have received the accreditation designation.
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 every citizen, business or institution within a department’s jurisdiction would know how accreditation relates to the quality of the protection from their department 24 hours a day, year after year. For example, perhaps there is a way to describe measurements for each of the 10 key categories so citizens can understand how the department in their community applies them directly to the protection it provides.
For information about CFAI or to apply for the accreditation, contact:
Additional measurements for consideration. Over the past 15 years, I have gathered over 75 various measurements of fire and EMS services. Please send me a request at email@example.com and I will e-mail a copy of those measurements to assist your efforts in marketing the effectiveness of your department.
Ben May has over 15 years of experience creating and applying the discipline of marketing management to fire departments and emergency service organizations. He has been a firefighter and fire commissioner, and is a graduate of the Montgomery County, MD, Public Service Training Academy. May has over 25 years of experience in business-to-business marketing and sales in the U.S. and internationally. Currently, his responsibilities include developing new business at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. May was fire commissioner in Woodinville, WA, from 1994 to 1998. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor of arts degree in public affairs and received his master of arts degree in international communication from the American University. May is a member of the Society of Executive Fire Officers, a trustee of the Education Foundation of the Florida Fire Chiefs Association and a board member of the Tampa Firefighter’s Museum. He welcomes your feedback on the column and he may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.