The Proof is in the Pudding

Just about a month ago in December, the USFA National Fire Data Center NFDC released "Fire in the United States, 2003-2007" report. This document is the 15th major edition of "Fire in The United States" published by the USFA and covers the five year...

The intent of those questions was not to put our chief officers on the spot. But to point out that we in the fire service are so focused on the trees, that we don't see the forest. Our attention is merely focused on our own day-to-day operations, that at best we might only have a general idea about our own local fire loss statistics.

Regrettably, most of us are not even aware of our own state's statistics, let alone the national fire loss statistics.

Now, if we don't know the true magnitude and seriousness of the national fire problem, how in the world are we going to explain it to the public, the media, and the local government?

And that my friends, is a significant obstacle that we must overcome, both at the local and at the national levels.

Let me put it this way. At a fire, if we haven't done a good complete 360-degree size-up, we won't know the extent and magnitude of the problem. It is only when we have an accurate assessment of the immediate challenges that we can call for the adequate resources to address them, right?

Quite similarly then, if our public and elected officials are truly unaware of the seriousness and the real magnitude of the fire problem, then how do we expect them to provide us with the necessary resources to address it?

In my mind then, having a valid, detailed, and accurate national database that can provide us with up to date local, state, and national fire loss statistics, is of utmost importance to all of us in the fire service. And that was the main reason that the USFA developed the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) back in 1976.

Version 5.0 of NFIRS was developed back in 1999 and is currently in use. Major changes to the NFIRS system are in development, with a web-based input tool to be released in the first quarter of 2010, and a new data warehouse with improved output report capabilities to be released early in 2011.

The "Fire in the United States, 2003-2007" report indicates that NFIRS was the primary source of data and accounted for 98 percent of the fire incident data reported. This document then, in a sense, could be considered our recent report card. Analyzing some of its findings could be of significant value to us in the fire service and could assist us in identifying our shortcomings and improving our performance.

This document indicates that out of the estimated 33,784 fire departments in our country, only 20,022 of the departments (59%) reported to NFIRS in 2007. Why is it that all of the fire departments in our country do not report to NFIRS? Because participation is only voluntary, thus the other 41 percent don't feel obligated to report to NFIRS. And even this low level of participation is the highest ever and has increased significantly thanks for the provisions of the Assistant to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program that require applicants to be reporting to NFIRS!

Wow! Can you even imagine if only 59 percent of our counterparts in the law enforcement communities reported their local crime statistics into their national data base; and the remaining 41 percent just didn't feel like filling the reports, or claimed that they didn't have the time and/or expertise to participate in the program? They have abundant up-to-date, detailed, and complete national and local crime statistics. That helps them justify their needs assessments, and obtain their necessary resources during good economic times or bad, whether the crimes are up or down. And the best that we can do is only 59 percent? Why?

Here is the difference. Their rookies get two to three weeks of detailed report writing courses that enhance their abilities and skills to write detailed, well-documented, meticulous reports that could be presented in courts and withstand all the cross examinations and all legal challenges. Arresting the criminals is not the end of their job -- it is only the beginning.

It is the quality of their documents and reports that finally wins their case and puts the criminals behind the bars. They know that if they take a little more time upfront, to cross all the "t"s and dot all the "i"s, that it will save them a lot more time and much headaches down the line, and make their case much stronger to obtain a conviction.