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2. Develop measurement definitions and procedures. Here, we must be very clear as to what we are measuring, how it is to be measured and who is to measure it. Define the sampling period; how long are we collecting data. Be specific on exactly what is to be measured and define limitations or parameters to the collection. For example, to learn differences in daytime and nighttime response times, first define “response time,” then determine the periods you want to look at and if you will be collecting data from all responses or just a certain type. Finally, agree on an overall measurement period of time.
3. Begin data collection. Once the data requirements have been identified and we know that the data exists and is available, now is the time to begin assembling the information. Data from existing records is best collected most efficiently by department personnel. The people who handle the records on a day-to-day basis are acquainted with the data, know where to get it and can help separate and interpret the information. Using knowledgeable department personnel to perform the time-demanding work of data collection can also free those analyzing the data to be involved in other projects.
4. Verify and evaluate data. A frequent look at the information collected is essential to ensure we are still measuring the data in the same way that was initially identified. Do not lose sight of what you are trying to show; stay on track. Evaluating the information should be done objectively, leaving out the emotional response of subjectivity.
We are not all the same
Not all agencies measure and track their performance the same, or they may “data mine” (maintain a statistical database) differently than your organization. It will be important to recognize these differences. Even though many progressive departments track their performance and benchmark themselves in a standardized manner, we are not all the same.
“Times have changed, it’s not the fireground of your grandfather” is a commonly heard statement referring to the need to stay abreast of current thought and technologies that affect our service. When we speak to “best practices,” we are referring to policies, procedures or practices based on current technologies and philosophies that are available to the fire service. As our above statement refers, progressive departments with best practices adopted their operational guidelines based on both the current environment and predicting future trends. A word of caution for the faint-of-heart leader: The adoption of practices that reflect current and anticipated influences may be often seen as a heretic move, especially when a practice questions long-held beliefs. Often, the move to a best practice that reflects current and anticipated factors can be unpopular within the organization.
When looking for best practices, take the time to research some of the hot topics in the fire service. For example, recent Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tests provide us with new data suggesting changes in traditional structure fire growth and behavior models. This scientific data suggests that we consider changes to the way we approach fireground tactics. For reference, videos can easily be found on YouTube using the search terms “NIST fire behavior modeling video” or “UL fire modeling video.”
The goal of every fire department is to provide the very best service for its community. The adoption of industry best practices based on researched and validated data is one measure of a professional organization. n