Here is another idea for institutionalizing the cultural shift in the career fire departments. USFA's requirement to have all recipients of the Assistant to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program participate in the NFIRS has worked great, and the number of participating departments has almost doubled between 2000 and 2007.
They should continue with that requirement. But make it even a little more stringent for the career departments, and require them to submit fully completed reports. Simply put, the career fire departments should forget about the little star (*) on the side of the questions on the forms that designate the required fields. The career fire departments must answer all of the questions and fill out the form completely if they want to be a recipient of the AFG.
Is that too much to ask? I don't think so. After all the NFIRS modules are only a page or two long, and all of the questions on them are quite valuable to accurately depict the nature and the extent of the incidents. If those questions were absolutely useless and irrelevant, they wouldn't have been put there in the first place, right? Those questions help us collect accurate data that serves us in addressing the national fire problem. And yet most importantly and even more directly, it helps the local fire departments to justify their needs and the services they provide to their own local decision makers and politicians.
Money talks, my friends. So, let's use an incentive/disincentive program to institutionalize this cultural shift and get all of the fire departments across our land to participate in the NFIRS program, rather than the current 59%. Yes, participation in NFIRS is only voluntary and not mandatory, but then we must fully participate because our professional obligations demand that. Yet, you surely agree that a little good old fashion incentive program won't hurt to boost up that spirit of voluntarism and encourage better participation either.
As I have mentioned, NFIRS is a great data base and the USFA and NFDC should take pride in their work. However, I believe that more work must be done to keep the statistics more up to date. The "Fire in the United States, 2003-2007" document states that "because of the time it takes for States to submit data to USFA from the thousands of fire departments that participate in NFIRS, then obtain corrections and edit the data, and analyze and display the results, the publication lags behind the date of data collection. Fortunately, the fire problem does not change very rapidly, so the data usually are quite representative of the situation in the year of publication as well."
I agree with that statement to a certain extent. Yes, the fire problem does not change rapidly and even this less than precise set of data is still relevant. But let's face it, in this day and age of instant global communication, don't you think that there is something lagging when our latest and greatest fire loss document that was just released in December of 2009 is talking about the 2007 data?
Seriously, how accurate could our current fire problem information be when we are talking about statistics from three years ago, way before our latest economic depression showed its ugly head and crippled all of our communities across the land? How many of our fire departments have the same level of resources and staffing as they had three years ago? What about the adverse impact of all these brown outs, station closures and firefighters layoffs, all while lot of the housing foreclosures and closed off businesses are set to burn?
Are our fire problem trends the same? Sure, for the most part yes. For example, just as it has been for decades, we lose about 80% of our fatalities in home fires. Does it justify us saying that since the fire problem is basically the same, then let's just forget about collecting data for the NFIRS annually and do as the Census does and collect statistics every ten years?
No, at this day and age, we need a lot more than just a silhouette image. We need a detailed and accurate picture of the fire problem. NFIRS must be designed to be up to date and be capable of providing us with the updated data and statistics that could assist us in our day to day battles in our local jurisdictions. And this is exactly the area where NFIRS needs to improve to better help us at the local level.