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Coffee Break Bulletin

Where's the Data?

Posted: Aug. 3, 2017

This Coffee Break Bulletin looks at why incident data is important and how you can improve it.

We live in a data-driven world, but somehow many first responders don’t value the importance of data. Filling out incident reports is seen as a bureaucratic mandate of little value. What difference does it make? Who’s looking?

Think again. Here is why data is important to you.

Budgets are tight. Data is what your chief uses to manage fire service operations. This also includes decisions made when the chief and his or her staff formulate their annual budget request. The decision-making process is more difficult if the data does not accurately reflect what is really going on in the community.

The days are gone when your department automatically gets what it wants based on emotion. Tax dollars are precious, and the demand is great. We can only show our true value by improving the quality of our data.

Over a five-year period, the cause of ignition in the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) was unknown in almost three out of every five home-fire deaths.

The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) is one group leading the charge on closing the reporting gap. According to the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association, over a five-year period, the cause of ignition in the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) was unknown in almost three out of every five home-fire deaths.

In a response to this reporting gap, the NASFM received funding from a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant to understand why the reporting gap occurs and to develop a training solution to help fire departments educate their members, whether career or volunteer, about the value of accurate reporting.

The NASFM research PDF 1.1 MB showed there are four areas that contribute to the data gap:

  • Closing the loop. A disconnect exists between those who make the initial fire report entry and the fire investigator who later determined the cause of the fire. The initial report is not updated with the cause of the fire or any new information.
  • Clearing the litigation cloud. Unless fire departments are 100 percent sure of the cause of the fire, they are sometimes reluctant to enter the cause of the fire.
  • Black hole. There is a belief the data goes into a “black hole” and doesn’t make a difference at the local or national level.
  • Complexity. The NFIRS is viewed as cumbersome and not user-friendly, so it discourages completing accurate reports.

Action step for closing the fire incident reporting gap

Sign up for NASFM’s one-hour class called “Why Data? Understanding Your Role in Fire Incident Report Data” available at NASFM’s training portal. This training is self-guided and can easily be incorporated into station-level or recruit training. A certificate of completion is available for continuing education requirements.

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