Sarasota County Fire Department awarded Accredited Agency Status by Commission on Fire Accreditation International

Process took four years, county administrator points out

Image courtesy Sarasota County

With a unanimous vote, the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI) has awarded the Sarasota County Fire Department (SCFD) Accredited Agency Status, county staff has announced.

The news was made public at a hearing in Orlando last week, a news release says: The Fire Department had met “the criteria established through the CFAI’s voluntary self-assessment and accreditation program.”

SCFD is one of 35 internationally accredited agencies in the state, the release points out.

“Accreditation is about being better able to serve our community and continual improvement.” said Sarasota County Administrator Jonathan Lewis in the release. “The best practices in fire services are reflected in the accreditation process,” he continued. “Our team has and will continue to work to ensure that we are providing the best possible service while protecting our team members.”

In a Feb. 27 email to the county commissioners, Lewis wrote, “As you know we have been on the journey to have the fire department accredited for about four years. The professional standards and identification of opportunities for improvement during this process are second to none.”

That day, he added, representatives of the department “had the opportunity to be in front of the accreditation commission to answer final questions prior to a vote being cast on whether our department was ready.”

In a Feb. 29 email, Chair Michael Moran responded to Lewis’ report of the accreditation decision: “Wow … that is great news.”

A document on the Center for Public Safety Excellence website lists the following among in regard to the value of CFAI accreditation, The Sarasota News Leader found:

  • Facilitates communications from, and builds positive relationships with, labor.
  • “Identifies areas of strengths and weaknesses.
  • “Allows for the establishment of a plan for improvement.
  • “Provides for greater data-driven decision-making.
  • “Communicates management and leadership philosophies.
  • “Ensures your agency has a defined mission and related objectives.
  • “Encourages the development of organizational procedural documents.”

“The women and men of Sarasota County Fire Department do an incredible job serving our community every day and in achieving international accreditation, the department further demonstrates its commitment to providing services and responses measured by the highest standards in the world that align with industry best practices for the fire and emergency services,” Emergency Services Director Rich Collins said in the county news release.

“The CFAI accreditation model is recognized worldwide as a measure of excellence in the fire service and shows SCFD’s commitment to a high level of service for Sarasota County and dedication to continually [assessing] service delivery, performance and opportunity for improvement internally,” the release explains. “The process included a third-party verification and validation,” performed by a team of peers who evaluated the department’s self-assessment and ensured its compliance with 250 performance indicators, the release adds.

Sarasota County Fire Chief David Rathbun

“This is an incredible accomplishment for this department,” said Fire Chief David Rathbun in the release. “Completing the detailed and exhaustive process demonstrates our commitment to public safety and the community we serve,” he added. “International accreditation and the Commission on Fire Accreditation International’s process is also a commitment to the future of the department, as it demands planning and continual improvement in our response, which will directly benefit the residents and visitors of Sarasota County,” Rathbun pointed out in the release.

Accreditation through the CFAI is for five years, the release notes, adding that the process is voluntary. “To continue accredited status,” the release says, “SCFD will submit annual compliance reports to the CFAI and complete the full reaccreditation process in 2029.”

The CFAI website notes that only 13% of the United States’ population “is protected by an accredited agency.”

Among the other Florida agencies that have won the accreditation, as shown on the CFAI website, are St. Petersburg Fire Rescue; Tampa Fire Rescue; Gainesville Fire Rescue; Pompano Beach Fire Rescue; the Broward Sheriff’s Office Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services, in Fort Lauderdale; the Orange County Fire Rescue Department, in Winter Park; the Miami Beach Fire Department; and the Orlando Fire Department.

Sarasota County Fire Chief Rathbun served for more than 30 years at Orange County Fire Rescue, as county staff noted when he was named the new chief in September 2022.