A Quality Control Program for the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal

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By Kenneth E. Wood

The Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal (OSFM) Division of Fire Prevention (DFP) conducts thousands of annual code enforcement inspections. The DFP's enforcement program suffered from what was perceived by OSFM management to be a high number of errors in the application of adopted codes. The problem was that benefits of a formalized quality control program (QCP) had never been investigated by the agency. Therefore, the OSFM may have been missing an opportunity to increase code enforcement effectiveness as the result of unfamiliarity with QCPs.

The purpose of this research was to identify whether recognized methods of quality control used in private business environments or other public agencies were applicable or adaptable to the OSFM as a method of enhancing code enforcement effectiveness. The research questions asked were:

  1. How can a QCP benefit the OSFM's DFP?
  2. What factors are important to the establishment and operation of a QCP?
  3. Are QCPs developed for the private sector applicable to public agencies, and fire service code enforcement agencies in particular?
  4. How are QCPs used in other fire service code enforcement agencies?
  5. How can a QCP be implemented in the OSFM's DFP?

Historical and evaluative research was conducted. An extensive literature review was performed. Survey instruments were sent to all states as well as fire departments exercising jurisdiction over the 30 largest U.S. cities. A survey was also conducted of fire departments that have had an Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) graduate within their administration to determine their extent of familiarity with, or use of, QCPs.

Results identified a variety of QCPs and quality concepts. Consistent in relevant literature was the need for public agencies to consider those they serve as "customers," even in a regulatory environment. Also revealed was a need for management to support the QCP and the necessity of allowing employees to be a part of the QCP formulation and application process. Furthermore, the work revealed a perception by experts that QCPs developed in the private business arena were applicable to the public sector. However, survey results revealed that the application of QCPs to public fire prevention enforcement programs has not been well explored and few fire service agencies at either the state or local level could be identified as using a QCP.

Resulting recommendations included (a) changing the focus of DFP management from judging performance based upon the number of inspections completed, to one in which the accuracy of the work is considered, (b) establishing a method to gather customer satisfaction data, (c) forming a joint OSFM labor-management committee to develop a formal QCP, (d) developing inspector specialists to handle less frequent inspections at more challenging occupancies, and (e) establishing a reward system to recognize quality inspector performance.