The saying "the job is not done until the paperwork is done" is absolutely right. It is our job to keep good records. It is our job to report valid, detailed, and accurate statistics. It is our job to make sure that not only the mandatory fields on the NFIRS modules are filled completely and accurately, but that all of the other fields are answered accurately also. Would that be above and beyond what NFIRS currently requires? Certainly, but then who benefits from those detailed reports and statistics after all?
No one but us. It gives us the clearest picture of the fire problem in our communities. It gives us the detailed statistics to justify the needs assessments and the budget requests to the decision makers and politicians in our own jurisdiction. In this great economic recession that we are experiencing, won't those types of detailed reports and statistics give us more ammunition and assist us in proving our case?
In my mind, there is absolutely no reason that we can't have all departments across the land report to NFIRS. Lack of manpower and resources is just an excuse.
First of all, the volume of calls in those little communities with volunteer departments is rather small and manageable. And it isn't like they are so busy running on calls that they don't get a chance to do a good job of reporting. It is just that they have not yet fully realized the benefits of NFIRS. Therefore reporting to NFIRS is not at the top of their priority list. Especially since they are volunteers and have their own jobs that they must attend too.
But even for that, there is a simple solution. When there is a will, there is a way. At this day and age that computers are available to almost all, and internet has conquered the entire globe where even the small villages in the third world countries have access to the internet, it is inexcusable to claim that we don't have the expertise in our small town volunteer fire departments to fill the NFIRS reports online.
I doubt that there is any little volunteer fire department that could not find a young and enthusiastic Explorer in their own town that won't be willing to help out their local fire department with their documentations and NFIRS reporting. They can even find an older, retired fire buff through the citizens Fire Corps program that would love to serve their local community in such capacity. And, rest assured that they would feel honored and would take pride to do a meticulous and exemplary job.
A complete, detailed, and accurate data base like NFIRS would benefit our communities at the local level, in addition to helping us better identify the trends and solutions to address our national fire problem. Anyone disagree? Then why not take the time to do it right?
We must recognize that good documentation and reporting is an important part of our job that must be performed well. This is an essential cultural shift that the fire service needs to make to step into the 21st century.
Here is an idea that can sweeten the deal for the local volunteer fire department to embrace this cultural shift. How about if USFA could establish an incentive program through the Assistant to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program that could provide a small grant as a financial incentive to the volunteer departments that submit complete, valid, and accurate NFIRS reports every year?
USFA could either administer it directly or through the 50 state fire marshals offices to distribute the grants to those volunteer departments in their states. How about that? It sure can't hurt and can even make more than all the bake sales, fireworks, and all the other fundraising functions that these small volunteer fire departments must do year after year to generate revenue for their operations. That could work for the combination fire departments also.
That being said, there is absolutely no reason in my mind that any career fire department in our country could not fully participate in the NFIRS. I believe that there must be a quality control mechanism in all of the career fire departments, and their standard operating procedures must be specifically tailored to ensure that high quality, consistent, complete, valid, and accurate reports are submitted to the NFIRS every single year.
Maybe an administrative chief officer could be assigned to these quality control responsibilities to make sure that not just the few required fields, but all of the fields in the NFIRS forms are consistently, accurately, and completely filled and submitted. They would then be the point of contact with the state and the national NFIRS.