Accountable: Doing what we say

By Nicole Eaton, Charlotte Communications & Marketing

Tucked away in First Ward on a relatively quiet North Myers Street, not too far away from Trade Street, is Fire Station №1. where Battalion Chief Wike Graham first gained an interest in joining the Charlotte Fire Department (CFD).

His passion for firefighting began years ago. A friend suggested going on a ride-a-long at Fire Station №1. So during a college break, he rode along with Battalion Chief Mike Wilson, who was a captain at the time, and since then he was hooked. He remembers going on a call to the Bank of America building, which was just built, and it was the biggest thing he had ever seen. It was mesmerizing to see uptown Charlotte develop and to work for the city. Now he has more than 20 years of service with CFD.

Safety is his top priority. So every day he runs calls for command and control, provides administrative work for projects and programs, and ensures that fire companies are strategically placed to respond to emergencies. In addition to his duties of the Fire Station №1 Battalion Chief, Graham also manages CFD’s accreditation program.

“Accreditation is the golden star for an agency. It’s setting the best industry standards and meeting them.” — Battalion Chief Wike Graham, CFD

About 25 years ago, a group of agencies came together including The National Fire Prevention Association, International City/County Management Association, Insurance Services Office, International Association of Firefighters and International Association of Fire Chiefs. These groups worked on a set of performance indicators that would determine if an agency was credible. Basically, they look at a fire department and say if you’re doing all of these things in the performance indicators, you are credible.

For CFD, the accreditation process starts with a risk analysis of the city. Then a five-year strategic plan is created. In that plan, CFD take the 250 plus performance indicators and look at each one closely. With each one, the following is asked: Are we meeting it? Are we doing it? What have we done in the past? What are we currently doing? What’s our plan for the future? From this, the Standard of Coverage is produced which lays out what CFD will do and how they plan to do it.

This is where accountability comes into the process. For Chief Graham, “Being accountable is doing what we say we’re going to do and doing our very best.”

To keep CFD accountable in the accreditation process, a peer team comes to Charlotte for about a week to assess and make recommendations. They receive CFD’s documents for a 45-day period in advance and make comments, ask questions and when they visit, they verify the information. In the end, they make a recommendation to the commissioner of accreditations.

The review process is two-fold. Graham is one of three accreditation peer team leaders so he’ll go to other cities to assess accreditation at other fire agencies. This helps CFD improve their own processes and stay on top of national standards.

“We can take what they’re doing — the good, the bad and the ugly — and bring it back here to Charlotte to say we need to avoid doing this or we many need to grab onto this.” — Battalion Chief Wike Graham.

The city attains accreditation through following through on what it says that it’s doing. There are only about 225 agencies that hold fire accreditation and CFD has achieved accreditation four times which is a tremendous achievement.

Aside from accreditation, CFD employees take ownership to take care of the citizens of Charlotte, holding themselves accountable. With less than 1,200 firefighters, CFD protects almost 900,000 people 24 hours a day, seven days per week.

“I absolutely love everything about my job. I’ve never come into work and not want to be here. I wish I could do it for another 50 years.” — Battalion Chief Wike Graham