SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Suffolk Department of Fire & Rescue was honored on Wednesday night after achieving firefighting accreditation given only to a select few at the international level.

Fire Chief Michael Barakey and others from the department spoke to city council about the recognition, which has only been awarded to just over 300 fire departments worldwide. Suffolk now joins Newport News, Hampton and Virginia Beach in being accredited by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International (CFAI). There are 11 in total on the municipality side in Virginia, and six with the Department of Defense.

Suffolk Fire & Rescue, which currently has 316 members, received the award on February 28, after going through a commission hearing in Orlando, Florida.

The accreditation process looks at 11 different categories:

  1. Governance and Administration
  2. Assessment and Planning
  3. Goals and Objectives
  4. Financial Resources
  5. Community Risk Reduction Programs
  6. Physical Resources
  7. Human Resources
  8. Training and Competency
  9. Essential Resources
  10. External Systems Relationship
  11. Health and Safety

“The agency’s achievement of Accredited Agency status demonstrates the commitment of the agency to provide the highest quality of service to our community,” Barakey said in an earlier press release. “We have also been able to use the Commission on Fire Accreditation International’s process as a proactive mechanism to plan for the future of this agency and locate areas where we can improve on the quality of the services we provide to the citizens of Suffolk.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Barakey thanked multiple different city departments and council in contributing to the effort.

Accreditation was a “big milestone,” but it’s not the end-all, Barakey said.

The department will now have to demonstrated continued improvements in their processes and submit annual compliance reports as part of the accreditation, which last five years.

Council Roger Fawcett called the honor “no doubt, one of the greatest things in Suffolk that we’ve had in my tenure and probably beyond … people of Suffolk ought to be mighty proud of the fact that we have a class, no doubt, one of the greatest class fire departments anywhere in the eastern seaboard that I know of.”

Fawcett and Mayor Mike Duman emphasized how the process to get accredited was years in the making.

“If it was easy everyone would be doing it, and from talking to Chief Nicholas Savage the process actually started about 3 of 4 years ago and the last two have really been intense in getting everything together and making it happen.”

The department also announced a “huge achievement” in moving up into class 2 for the ISO’s Public Protection Classification (PPC) Program, which grades municipal fire-protection efforts. Only about 1,400 municipalities worldwide have that honor, the department says.

You can watch the city council recognition around the 6-minute mark here.