RAF Mildenhall Fire Department earns prestigious international accreditation for second time

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Raising and setting the bar to gain international accreditation status by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International in 2019 wasn’t enough for the 100th Civil Engineer Squadron Fire Department – they’ve just earned that accomplishment for a second time running, smashing standards not only as the first U.S. Air Force fire department in the United Kingdom to gain the accreditation, but also the first to gain it twice.

Accredited status lasts five years, and Feb. 28, 2024, fire department leadership from Royal Air Force Mildenhall officially earned their accreditation for the second time, meeting a board and collecting their official plaque at the CFAI Hearings, Center for Public Safety Excellence conference in Orlando, Florida.

Gaining the official accreditation provides credibility in the fire and emergency services profession, both military and civilian. According to the CPSE, accreditation benefits include encouraging continuous quality improvement, identifying strengths and weaknesses, national recognition, and creating a method for developing or revamping strategic plans.

“This achievement is based on five years of continuously aiming to improve our department in all areas,” said Watch Manager Matt Thorpe, 100th CES Fire Department and accredited Fire Officer, one of the key players who has been working on regaining the station’s accreditation status over the last five years.

He, along with Master Sgt, Nathaniel Salas, 100th CES Fire Department fire chief; Master Sgt. Ryan Falk, deputy fire chief, and Station Manager Martin Lash, civilian deputy fire chief, attended the conference and faced the commission, supported in person by Lt. Col. Anna Narduzzi, 100th CES commander.

In the build-up to this five-year outcome, Thorpe became the first British credentialed Fire Officer and accreditation manager – validated by the CPSE – and trained peer assessor. Thanks to his mentoring and leadership, there are now three British Fire Officers in the U.K., all at RAF Mildenhall.

He also took part in a peer team site visit to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to validate their efforts for their fire department’s second term of accredited status.

“This helped prepare me for what we were going to see as our own accreditation date drew nearer; knowing the process, we felt more confident in preparation for the peer assessment team,” he remarked. “The evaluation process by CPSE is extremely thorough, so achieving and maintaining accredited status is validation that we are doing all that we can do to be the best department we can be. It’s something that every single person in the station plays a part in, and we are very proud of that – we strive for excellence and to provide the best service to our community.”

Throughout the five-year status, to show they are maintaining efforts to continuously improve, an annual compliance report is submitted each year to the Center for Public Safety Excellence.

The Fire Officer gave acknowledgement to the prior leadership of Chief Master Sgt. (retired) Will Taylor, former RAF Mildenhall installation fire chief, and others on Taylor’s team who started the initial process in the years before the fire department gained its first accreditation status.

“A lot of work was done in those early days, which makes it all a bit easier today,” said Thorpe. “They fixed in the groundwork, and we maintain it; there are also a lot of changes that have been implemented as we continue this journey. The parameters of accreditation, set forth by CPSE, have their own continuous process improvement. We make sure that we are well-versed on these changes through classes given by CPSE excellence conference, and network with other accredited departments. The CPSE provides us with a large community of strong professional fire service agencies, all happy to assist each other, and maintaining these contacts, along with attending these events, is vital to maintaining accredited status.”

He explained that when a fire department is ready for accreditation, or shortly before the five-year mark of an accreditation cycle, a peer assessment team of fire service professionals visits the department for approximately five days. During the site visit, the team validates all the strengths and weaknesses articulated in the Fire and Emergency Services Self-Assessment Manual, which consists of 250 performance indicators addressing all aspects required of a well-managed fire department.

“They look into every aspect of our fire department, from how we conduct emergency operations, spend our funding, train our firefighters, protect our community, educate, work with mutual aid partners, and so much more,” remarked the Fire Officer. “At the end of the visit, the team sits down with the fire chief and provides their recommendations to make our department even better – all in the name of continuous process improvement. They then tell us whether or not they recommend that the fire department is ready to go further on the journey to accreditation.”

The RAF Mildenhall Fire Department proved they were more than ready, and a few months later, sat before the CFAI Commission, in front of 10 highly regarded fire service professionals who have the peer assessment team report in hand. It’s at this hearing that the fire department provides action plans on how to address any recommendations. If the commission is satisfied with the answers and can see that the desire to improve is credible, the department is then awarded accredited status.

“The feedback and assistance we receive for being in the accreditation process is of huge benefit to our department,” added Thorpe. “Accreditation helps us to be the best we can be, and we received help via the insight of fire service experts across the fire world – not just military, but also municipal fire services too.”

Having their squadron commander by their side at the accreditation hearing provided an extra boost to the fire and emergency services leadership team, knowing they had her backing.

“A huge part of accreditation is about being transparent with your stakeholders – with the commander sat at our table, we were representing ourselves as a fire department with the full support of our squadron,” remarked Thorpe. “There is then the opportunity to prove that our fire department goals and priorities align with our squadron and wing. Lt. Col. Narduzzi is well-versed on accreditation and how it benefits our department. Her attendance, in spite of how busy she is, clearly shows the strength of our relationship with our squadron leadership.”

The 100th CES commander shared how strongly she believes in her fire department team at RAF Mildenhall and the hard work they have put into being accredited for a second time.

“The hearing is the final assessment of the fire department by the Board of Commissioners. I attended to demonstrate the support that both squadron and base leadership has for the department,” said Narduzzi. “I also had the opportunity to tell the board about the numerous awards that fire department personnel have won over the past few months!

“I’m very impressed and proud of the work that the fire department has done to earn their re-accreditation – the process is extremely rigorous and shows that this department has met the highest standards in the eyes of their peers, both civilian and military, and the Accreditation Board. The process is built on continuous improvement. Our fire department courageously opened their doors to be evaluated by their peers, and then acted on those recommendations. The culture of growth and improvement ensures it is ready to meet and exceed the needs of our base and community, and they show it every day,” remarked the 100th CES commander.