After three and a half years of paperwork, self-assessment and training, the Parris Island Fire Rescue Division became the second fire department in Beaufort County -- and the fifth in South Carolina -- to earn international accreditation.
Last month, Parris Island Fire Chief Dwight Charleston and the department, which responds to fires and medical emergencies at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, earned the stamp of approval from the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, a board that examines the ability of fire departments to deliver fire and emergency services to their communities.
To receive accreditation, the department had to meet 250 guidelines covering everything from budgeting to response times to fire truck maintenance.
The Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division is the only other accredited department in Beaufort County, according to accreditation commission officials.
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Charleston said the commission's stamp of approval was one of his goals when he became chief in 2008. The lengthy process helped him gauge how well his department did its job."For years, I wondered, 'How does a fire department grade itself?'" Charleston said. "We get called to a structure fire, and we put the fire out. We get called to a medical call and we help someone, maybe save a life, so we're passing. Are we passing with an A or a B or a C?
"This program helped us find out."
The department probably won't be the last local department to become accredited.
The civilian fire department at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort also has to become certified after Marine Corps officials issued an order in August requiring all of its fire departments to be certified through the commission.
Charleston said the decision will make the Corps' fire departments better.
"This program really helped us improve as a department," Charleston said. "It also pushes you to constantly improve. A lot of people think that once you're accredited, you're done. No, we're starting over now and are going to work harder to become re-accredited."
The department will be up for re-accreditation in 2017.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.