The North Shore Fire Department's top three 2014 initiatives are accreditation, shared training, and stepped up communications between top brass and firefighters, Fire Chief Robert Whitaker said.
According to NSFD's 2014 organizational goals, presented to the board of directors on Tuesday, the department is moving on to a second phase of an accreditation process through the Center for Public Safety Excellence. The accreditation is rare among Wisconsin fire departments, with the CPSE's roster listing two accredited departments within the state as of November. Seven other Wisconsin departments are in the process of becoming accredited, according to the CPSE website.
"It's becoming more popular but it's something of an elite status," Whitaker said in a post-meeting interview.
NSFD began the accreditation process, funded by the fire department foundation, last year and expects to finish in 2014. Whitaker said the accreditation includes a data-driven review of the department and should help determine "best practices."
"Achieving this a big deal, because it's about continuous improvement in the organization," Whitaker said. "I think it's important for the people who pay the bills to know they're getting a good value."
The new year also marks an expansion of the joint training program, which for the last two years has had NSFD learning alongside Wauwatosa firefighters. Whitaker said the city of Brookfield has signed on to the program and several other area departments are showing interest.
NSFD tries for 20 hours of training per firefighter each month, including the mandatory training each employee needs to retain job-specific certifications and licenses. The department also aims to have each firefighter train once or twice annually on full-scale, "high-risk, low frequency" situations like rooftop rescues and big blazes.
Since NSFD trains staff while they're on-duty, only small groups can be sent out to train in Wauwatosa at any given time. Having a second group from Wauwatosa, and soon more groups from other departments, makes the training realistic since large groups respond to high-risk events, Whitaker said.
Technology has also improved training because staffers from all participating departments can access informational materials anytime.
"Our employees can have something instantly," Whitaker said. "Granted, they can't go online and rappel up a building, but they can go online and do the prework before they train on that sort of thing."
Another focus in 2014 is an emphasis on communication between top-level administrators and firefighters. The move is important to having an understanding of what's happening "on the street" in NSFD's coverage area, and a desire on the administration's part for everyday employees to understand top-level decisions — a desire brought about by the firefighter union's visceral reaction to benefit changes in 2013, Whitaker said.
The plan is to organize meetings among administrators and station supervisors, though the effort may prove difficult.
"To get all your supervisors in one place at one time is a challenge in itself, because you have to operate," Whitaker said.
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