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...

For example, take a look at the field G2 on the Basic Module (NFIRS-1) where the estimated dollar losses and values are entered. If there was a field created there right after the "Losses" and "Pre-Incident Value", that could automatically fill (by deducting the losses from the pre-incident value) to show the estimated dollar value saved, wouldn't that be a great indication of the value of our service to our community? I mean, for a single incident for example, if the pre-incident value was $500,000, and the fire losses were $70,000, then that would show that the savings due to our efforts was $430,000 for that incident alone. Add that up for all your incidents in one year and that could be a good depiction of your department's value to your jurisdiction. Can that come in handy during the budget hearings?

During this tough economic climate in all our jurisdictions across the land, we are forced to fiercely compete for the very scarce resources. And to be successful, we need detailed, accurate statistics clearly depicting the magnitude of the problem and the required resources. Gone are the days that simple emotional presentations were adequate to get us an annual five percent budget increase year after year. In this day and age of instant global communication and information to the point of saturation, statistics from three years ago don't do us much good. Let's face it, to be successful with the decision-makers and politicians, we need current statistics.

Fires are just a small percentage (6.1 percent based on the NFPA statistics) of the incidents to which fire departments respond. We are all aware that the majority of our time is spent providing EMS to the public. Many fire departments also provide specialized services including hazmat response, specialized rescue, and wildland fire resources. Some departments even provide other public services in their communities such as doing blood pressure screening, accident prevention, bicycle safety, or other fire and life safety education. We may do all these services, but do we fully document these activities? My friends, detailed documentation of all our services and meticulous reporting of all our daily activities is even more essential now than ever before.

All of us in the fire service, whether career, combination, or volunteer departments, are fighting to survive during these massive budget cuts. In all municipalities, we are fighting for the same shrinking dollars. And the only way to compete with the other municipal departments and agencies for these dollars is to be able to meticulously justify our needs. We must do this ourselves as no one will do it for us. Complete NFIRS reporting will put us on an even playing field with all those agencies with whom we are competing for funding. We must recognize that accurate NFIRS reporting helps us all at the local levels.

I am not at all familiar with the law enforcement data collection system and their data base. But I have heard that it is a lot more centralized and up to date than ours. It might be of value if the USFA could take a look at some of the capabilities of their systems to see if or where they could be tailored to fit our needs. And if suitable, they might then work on updating their technical specifications for the software upgrades for NFIRS.

The technology for the up to date data is available in the private sector side. The insurance companies have detailed statistics that they use for their own internal use. And they even have simplified interactive forms of it available for their customers use. For example, take a look at this link from the Allstate Insurance website. This Allstate web site is called "The most common and costly claims." This program allows anyone to enter a zip code, and it will list the five most common claims and the most costly claims.

This was just an example, but I am sure that the technology is available to have similar detailed fire statistics available to us all in our own jurisdictions. Why can't we have an interactive website like this available for the fire service? Can you imagine how useful something like this could be to all of us during budget presentations in our own local jurisdictions? You can show to every one of your councilmen/women or your District Board members the exact loss statistics in their wards, and explain your needs and resources to better serve your community.

The USFA report stated that "with continued improvements to the NFIRS system, data collection will also continue to improve. If we better understand the relative importance of the factors that lessen the fire problem, resources can be better targeted to have the most impact." That is absolutely right. My friends, the proof is in the pudding. NFIRS is the best tool available to us to clearly tell our story and help us with our efforts to address the fire problem in our country. It is up to us to enhance it, and make sure that it continues to be the most accurate and up to date fire data base in the world.