More than 18 months of validation and assessment reached a positive outcome Tuesday, as Fort Belvoir Fire and Emergency Services became the 8th Army fire department to ever gain a prestigious accreditation by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.

Speaking to the accreditation board on Zoom, Col. Joshua SeGraves, Garrison commander, said this process was very instructive.

“I’m better able to articulate, after this process, the overall risk to our senior commander, Major Gen. (Omar) Jones of the Military District of Washington, and to the over 150 mission partners we have on the installation,” said SeGraves. “The all-hazards perspective helped me understand how our team integrates with mutual aid agencies that ultimately reduce our risks and provide the best services available – not just to the Army, but also to our local communities.”

Nick Christensen, accreditation team lead, and DoD representative for the November site visit, said Fort Belvoir was more than ready for the team’s visit.

“The community tour made clear the organization had taken the time to understand their areas of responsibility to the granular level. The agency’s absolutely committed to the model of continuous improvement and their actions matched their words on site,” Christiansen said. “There was full ownership from firefighter to fire chief, and a specific mention that out of my eleven site visits, this was the first time I had the opportunity to interview a firefighter, which was always done by the accreditation manager or chief officer.”

Shane Crutcher, Fort Belvoir fire chief, said his travels across the country have convinced him Belvoir has the best Army fire department.

“This is, without a doubt, the most progressive fire department in Army Fire and Emergency Services,” Crutcher said. “I’ve had the opportunity to see lots of fire departments at various exercises and evaluations. I have travelled across the country over the past two years, doing evaluations for the Army. And I’ve had experience seeing first-hand how they perform in Germany, and Fort Belvoir is the best.”

After making the commitment to obtain the prestigious recognition from the Commission of Fire Accreditation International, it became clear what a big administrative lift it was going to be, according to Julien Crolet, the assistant fire chief tasked with completing the accreditation application – that consumed a year and a half of his life to reach the finish line.

“The largest undertaking is the third document, which is the Fire and Emergency Services Self-Assessment Manual, which takes a look at 256 performance indicators out of ten different categories. Each indicator is a page-long description on where you’re at with that indicator, where you need to be, and then a plan to get there,” Crolet said, adding that 86 of them are core competencies, which means those must be met for accreditation.

Crutcher noted, while many Army installations are not near major cities, Fort Belvoir places it among some of the best civilian teams in the country.

“Here, we’re surrounded by legitimately the best of the best. Fairfax County is a premiere fire and rescue service in the nation; they are number one when it comes to FEMA rescue teams. When you have a standard outside the gate, you also have to become the standard,” Crutcher said.

The commission’s on-site visit in November worked to validate every metric and procedure, interviewing more than 20 team members to gain insight on specific topics, and Crutcher said it went very well, and that “out of 225 areas examined, they articulated that we met all the critical core functions required, and only had about a dozen observations and suggestions about best practices, several of which we addressed right away.”

“I knew when I got here, we need to be part of that one percent; we’re that good,” said Crutcher, adding, with a smile, “We don’t shy away from a tough project.”

How does Chief Crutcher feel about the board’s unanimous vote for accreditation? Relief.

This is a big deal, as we are the 8th Army firefighting team to be accredited,” Crutcher said. “It’s a huge relief, and I’m happy for the organization. It’s been a lot of work for more than 18 months, and we didn’t let COVID slow us down.

“Now begins the process of sustaining.”