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LAFD deemed among best in the world

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Department earns international accreditation at Chicago event

By Carol A. Clark

CHICAGO – The Los Alamos Fire Department was one of only five in the world when it received international accreditation 15 years ago. That accreditation stands for five years and the Commission on Fire Accreditation International Inc. (CFAI) bestowed a new accreditation on LAFD, its third, at a ceremony in downtown Chicago Thursday evening.

Officials from Los Alamos attended the gala event including former County Administrator Max Baker. Baker serves on the Center for Public Safety Excellence Inc. (CPSE) board of directors of which the CFAI is one of its programs.

“This accreditation is the basis for excellence in an organization and the men and women of the Los Alamos Fire Department are primed for making it the best,” Baker said.

The CFAI accreditation process provides an internationally recognized system in which the quality of fire and emergency services of a fire department operating anywhere in the world can be measured. To receive this accreditation, a fire department undergoes intensive self-evaluation, develops a comprehensive strategic plan and standard of cover, conducts a detailed risk analysis of its community and has passed an exhaustive review by its peers.

Fire officials from departments across the country participated in the assessment of the LAFD including Florida, Indiana, North Carolina and Illinois.

Fire Chief Steve Olson of Geneva, Ill., team leader of the LAFD assessment process said: “The LAFD is well-staffed, very well equipped and a highly motivated group of people who are passionate about their jobs and they are the envy of every other fire chief of a similar size community. The residents of Los Alamos are very fortunate for the high level of support they receive from their fire department in emergency medical service and fire rescue response.”

Its cooperative agreement with the National Nuclear Security Administration to provide fire, rescue, Hazmat and emergency medical services to Los Alamos National Laboratory, places the fire department in a powerful category among fire departments.

“We tore apart the entire laboratory and town inside and out looking for risks during this process,” said Fire Chief Doug Tucker.

He commended his accreditation team, led by Operations Analyst Norma Jean Valdez and assisted by Assistant Chief Mark Sandoval, Battalion Chief Henry Ortiz and Fire Marshal Michael Thompson.

Many departments simply can’t meet all the criteria set out in the accreditation process, Sandoval said adding, “It’s nice to see the accumulation of all our hard work that involved the entire department result in this award – it’s a major feat.”  

An aspect of the accreditation process Ortiz said he especially enjoyed was the level of self examination it allowed the department.

“We looked at every process, every procedure and every policy and compared them to industry standards and best practices,” he said. “It’s very satisfying to know that we do compare well.”

LAFD started its accreditation process in March 2009, Valdez said. They met with stakeholders from the community, DOE, LANL, the county’s human resources, finance and administrator’s offices and all ranks of LAFD to enlist assistance in developing its strategy.