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...


They recognize that it is their professional obligation to gather all the evidence and be very meticulous in their documentation. Simply stated, they know that it is their job. And of course, the fact that their detailed statistics help them obtain much needed local and national funding doesn't hurt either.

Many of the reports that police officers write document alleged crimes, including robbery and assault. These crimes result in property damage, loss of life, or injuries to the individuals. Senior police officials and the elected officials would not tolerate incomplete or sloppy police reports. Yet, although fires result in the same consequences of property damage or, in some cases, loss of life or injuries as previously mentioned, in comparison our documentation and reporting is rather sloppy and many NFIRS reports don't completely tell the story of the incident. Why? Unfortunately, such deficiencies are tolerated by our leadership. We need a cultural shift, and we must evolve professionally.

For most, we are just there for the thrill of fighting the fires. And once the fire is out, we consider our job done. Wrong! Let's face it; even the salvage and overhaul operations seem to be not too glamorous and less than desired, let alone the boring task of completing the paperwork.

We don't value report writing much, and we spend little or no time in training our rookies. And no, our newly promoted officers don't get much training either. For most, here are the books now get busy and start writing is the only guidance and their first exposure to report writing. So what do we expect then?

At best, their efforts might be adequate for their local demands. But then they simply "wing it" when submitting the NFIRS reports, just to get it done and out of their hair. After all, they don't see any direct positive value in all those statistics and reporting to the Feds. To them all those national reports are dumped into an abyss in the twilight zone, never to be found. There is nothing in it for them, other than the time spent in writing the reports.

They don't see any substantial values for their efforts, thus even their submitted reports might not be fully complete, valid, or even too accurate. Yet, if they truly recognize the benefits and the value of the NFIRS to them and their local jurisdictions, then the little effort and the additional time that goes in completing a valid and accurate report would certainly be worth it.

After all, there are only 11 modules in NFIRS 5.0, and besides the Basic Module (NFIRS-1) that must be filled for all incidents, only four modules (fire, structural fire, civilian fire casualties, and fire service casualties) are required to be filled, and the other six modules (EMS, hazardous materials, wildland fire, apparatus/resources, personnel, and arson) are only optional to be filled and submitted. And to make it even easier and simpler to submit, in all the forms for those required modules, there are only a certain number of required fields that must be filled. Seriously my friends, how difficult could it really be to do it right?

Yet, the quality of the submitted reports to the NFIRS is an area of great concern for the USFA. The following excerpts from the "Fire in the United States, 2003-2007" document these concerns and the deficiencies that must be improved:

"Data challenges still exist: many records submitted to NFIRS by participating fire departments provide either incomplete or no information in some of the fields. Additionally, in preparing this report, it is assumed that participating fire departments have reported 100 percent of their fire incidents; however, this is not always the case. The completeness of all the information in the NFIRS modules will contribute to the refinement and confidence level of future analyses.