SUMMIT, NJ - The Summit Fire Department this year achieved international accreditation with the Center for Public Safety Excellence of the Commission for Fire Accreditation International, and the city celebrated the achievement with a special Common Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
Fire Chief Joseph Houck noted the city department was one of only 144 departments across the globe and one of only two departments in New Jersey to receive the distinction.
In addition to the current staff and officers of the Summit department, the chief gave credit to the department’s previous chiefs, present and former council members and staff members and department heads in the city’s government for helping the department reach its goal.
He noted the accreditation was achieved over the course of four years, despite a turnover of four chiefs and a number of other senior officers and because of the “commitment of the entire department to the community.”
Deputy Chief Richard DeGroot gave a presentation of the accreditation process, noting among factors considered were: Response time and incidence of fires.
He said the goal was to have equipment get to emergencies anywhere in Summit within five minutes and make sure it had enough equipment and firefighters at the scene—and be able to prove the goals were achieved.
DeGroot added although the department historically believed there was a greater incidence of residential fires in East Summit it had to back up this contention with facts and reasons in order to achieve the international distinction.
Among the steps in the process, he noted, were: Backing up all information with facts, living up to nationally-recognized performance criteria, demonstrating it could improve its organizational model through self-assessment and review by third party experts from other fire fighting organizations.
During the self-assessment, he noted, the department had to make a comprehensive comparison of its organization to best practices in the industry.
Community risks and safety needs were identified, departmental performance evaluated and a method for continuous organization improvement was established.
DeGroot noted a strategic plan was formulated to tell where the department was going based on risk assessments and standards of response coverage and a self-assessment manual.
Benchmarking was done against nationally-recognized standards, he added, and the Summit department made use of its Geographic Information System, risk assessment and standards of response planning.
Also evaluated were the budgetary process, financial planning, justification of needs, the department’s fire suppression and fire prevention programs, facilities, apparatus, rescue and safety equipment, and human resources functions such as administration, recruitment and promotion and retention.
He added in the areas of training and competency the department had to identify its needs, demonstrate they were consistent with its mission and that they were performance based.
Also evaluated were essential resources such as water supply, communications and administrative support as well as external support from automatic aid (in conjunction with the Millburn Fire Department), mutual aid agreements with other departments and support from other Summit city agencies.
The process, according to DeGroot, will result in improving the department’s strengths, give it quantifiable yardsticks to measure progress, improving credibility, outlining priorities and identifying opportunities, improving communication, fostering pride, and improving morale and organizational effectiveness.
Mayor Jordan Glatt congratulated the department on its tremendous accomplishment, adding that it demonstrated the department’s “commitment to deliver the best in fire safety every day, on every call.”
Glatt thanked all the current firefighters for their hard work along with those who worked hard in the past to bring the department to its current status.
The mayor said it had been his privilege to serve with three fire chiefs, and, although he already knew about the outstanding quality of the department, the accreditation backed that up with facts.
Council Fire Safety Chair Ellen Dickson reiterated the governing body’s commitment to the 32-member department, adding with a few corporate headquarters, a hospital and many schools the city needs and would continue to have the council’s budgetary commitment to the department.
Current City Administrator and former Fire Chief Christopher Cotter recounted how the accreditation process began in a fire department in California from which the Center for Public Safety Excellence sprang.
He said he was particularly proud of the fact that Summit was the first community in New Jersey to receive accreditation for both its police and fire departments.
Council Member Michael Vernotico said it had been his privilege to serve on the Public Safety Committee for four years, and called the accreditation, “more than an honor. It is a blueprint for the community.”
He commended the Summit department for doing more with less than many similar departments in New Jersey.
Vernotico, a former Millburn Township Committee member, also gave personal greetings to the Millburn firefighters in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting and praised the continuing cooperation between the two departments.
Council Finance Chair Richard Madden, who formerly served in the Marines, said he saw the same type of corps spirit in the Summit Fire Department he had seen while serving in the armed forces.
Council Member Thomas Getzendanner praised the performance of the department for helping keep down homeowners’ insurance rates for city residents, while Council Member Nuris Portuondo said the department had helped her fulfill a “girlhood dream” when she recently had the privilege of riding on calls on two separate occasions with the department.
Council President Dave Bomgaars noted the cooperative efforts of a number of city departments that led to the accreditation of the fire department.