Career or volunteer, management and labor, every member of the fire service must place a premium on both firefighter and civilian safety. In today’s brave new world, technology and data provide an opportunity to analyze, dissect and establish true metrics around actual incidents, demographic data, building construction, response times and other pertinent factors that contribute to the success or failure of an emergency response.
The National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) domiciled at the U.S. Fire Administration provides valuable, but limited, information on emergency responses. About 50 percent of all fire departments enter data into NFIRS. Company officers and incident commanders often find NFIRS to be overly complicated and not user friendly. As a result, the data are, in many cases, haphazardly entered and proves to be spotty and incomplete.
The private sector has long recognized that information translates to improved efficiency and, ultimately, greater profits. As a result, the corporate world has invested mightily in mining and evaluating data to enhance the bottom line. Regrettably, the fire service has not.
Unlike a corporation, our metric isn’t the number of widgets produced or a balance sheet, it is saving lives and ensuring that our members go home safe when their shifts conclude. Understanding and leveraging data can help us achieve that goal and better fulfill our vital life-saving mission.
There are two new cutting edge programs being developed and initially funded through the Assistance to Fire Fighters Grants (AFG) program: the National Fire Operations Reporting System (NFORS; pronounced “En-Force”) and FireCARES.
NFORS is a state-of the art data-gathering and analytics system for the fire service. It greatly expands the basic fireground census data gleaned from NFIRS by including categories for apparatus inventory, management capabilities, readiness assessments, benchmarking, post-incident assessment and tools to track injuries, near misses and exposures.
The system was designed to be intuitive and user-friendly. The information generated is stored in the cloud so it is readily accessible and can be retrieved to generate analyses, comparative reports and other pertinent data for an individual jurisdiction, regionally or on a national basis. Having this data in real time will prove invaluable for a jurisdiction to evaluate resources, analyze outcomes and engage in long-term planning, which will improve firefighter safety and health and fire department capabilities and performance. Many of the nation’s largest departments will begin utilizing NFORS this spring. For further information, visit www.nfors.com.
FireCARES (www.firecares.org)—a collaborative effort of the IAFF, IAFC, Metro Chiefs, NIST and other partners—is a second, complementary program that analyzes community risk, fire department operational performance, and a comparison of the two. Ensuring that a jurisdiction marshals and deploys sufficient resources to match the inherent risk and threat levels within a community greatly enhances a fire department’s preparedness and ability to respond.
The basic premise of Fire Cares is very direct. The community’s various hazards and risk factors, population variables, geography, weather patterns, housing stock demographics, building construction, poverty levels, and more are compiled into an analytical database. Those criteria are then melded with information on actual fire incidents: number of fires, fires that extended outside of the room of origin or developed into larger blazes, death and injuries resulting from fires, and property loss statistics.
Those measurements are then contrasted with a fire department’s performance in terms of NFPA guidelines as it relates to the time of alarm, dispatch, turnout, arrival and suppression/extinguishment. A mathematical model makes the analysis and develops a “performance score” for the department, which can be contrasted to other fire departments of similar characteristics or reviewed annually to gauge improvements.
Collectively, NFORS and FireCARES offer an opportunity to take the next steps to utilize digital technology to protect the protectors and the citizens we serve. But to be effective, both programs need participation and critical mass.
It is the responsibility of fire service leaders at the department and company levels to recognize that our job is more than simply being a good fire fighter or fire officer. We must engage in long range planning and leverage all available resources including data and analytics to plan strategically for the present and future. Advocate that your department participate in NFORS and Fire Cares.
National leaders understand the need to embrace NFORS as the next generation of fire service data. The ability to capture quality data exists and can be readily accessed and utilized. Let’s not let the status quo and bureaucratic inertia stymie innovation. Big data matters and can save lives.