May 10, 2013 10:40:54 AM
Nathan Gregory - [email protected]
Unsurprisingly, a survey of customers and other stakeholders found that the core services offered by Columbus Fire and Rescue ranked at the top in terms of importance: Fire suppression, emergency medical response and fire prevention were the top three programs of priority among the more than two dozen, according to the department's 2013-18 strategic plan.
The planning document designed to develop a long-range vision and framework for how to effectively meet public need in the future was passed Tuesday by the Columbus City Council.
CFR Chief Kenneth Moore said the agency has been working continuously to become among 170 departments in the country that have achieved national accreditation and, as part of reaching that goal, spent 18 months working on the strategic plan. He said the plan was also designed to guide the direction of the department over the next five years.
Moore said he hopes to see the department complete the requirements necessary for national accreditation in the next six months.
"Doing a strategic plan sets goals for the future. It makes us look at what services we're providing now and what we can do better. If you don't have a plan and don't seriously evaluate what you're doing, you'll never get better. This helps us take a serious look at where our services are so we can constantly be improving and be the best," Moore said. "The ultimate goal is to be nationally accredited, and we would be the first in Mississippi to be, so this is the first step in the process of getting that done."
Short-term plan-related tasks include conducting an analysis to determine current and future facility needs, which will include a review of existing facilities to determine compliance with federal guidelines, the organization of a facilities committee that would determine the adequacy of current facilities and an exploration of alternative sources of funding to meet facility needs.
In terms of recruiting and retention, the department plans to develop a recruitment strategy to create a broader candidate pool as well as a volunteer firefighter program and a junior firefighter program. CFD will also develop a retention strategy to prevent loss of experienced personnel, which was presented as a threat to the department in the plan's SWOT (Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, along with a shrinking budget and loss of alternative funding sources.
Another more long-term objective is to construct a new facility that would replace Fire Station No. 4 and build a training facility for that department within the next five years.
"Each section of the plan has a committee," Moore said. "The committees will take suggestions and start evaluating cost analysis of those that could be implemented easily prioritize them and timeline to complete them."
Community expectations listed in the plan include: teaching CPR to seniors and families, conducting a Citizens Fire Academy, training with Lowndes County volunteer fire departments, establishing a drainage assessment team, developing a high school interaction program designed to help youth at risk, improved public information access and increased involvement with Lowndes County Emergency Management Agency.
Areas of customer/stakeholder concern were public awareness and education, conducting ward meetings at fire stations, holding station meet and greets, performing home safety checks, community interaction, improvement of software between agencies to increase efficiency and updating equipment.
"It became clear in the surveys that we weren't educating the public enough on all the services we do provide. (We performed) lower than I expected on public education," Moore said. "We offer so many services and so many people aren't aware of it."
Positive costumer feedback included: timely response, professionalism, knowledgeable personnel, ability to meet expectations and the ability of CFR to provide services that meet community needs.
In a 22.3-square-mile city with a population of 23,640 according to the latest U.S. Census data, CFR operates five stations and has 73 full-time members who respond to an average of 2,550 calls for service each year, approximately six percent of those calls being fire related and 70 percent of calls for medical assistance. Columbus is one of a handful of other municipalities with a Class 4 fire rating, including Starkville, Tupelo, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Oxford. The best fire insurance rating for a department based on a 1-10 scale is a 3.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.