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CAD Systems and Autopopulated Fields

Posted: June 7, 2023

4 min read
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This NFIRSGram explains how to ensure that the Computer-Assisted/Aided Dispatch (CAD) system is populating the correct data to the Incident Time and Incident Remarks/Narrative fields in the National Fire Incident Reporting System NFIRS.

CAD systems have changed the way 911 dispatch centers receive, process and route emergency calls. As emergency response units are dispatched to provide a service, the same information collected in the CAD system by a 911 dispatcher can be shared with responding units. This real-time information sharing ensures that the emergency responders receive the most up-to-date information available.

Once the incident is over, fire department record management systems (RMSs) can receive data automatically from the CAD system, with many populating fields for the purposes of fire incident reporting. The NFIRS 5.0 is the standard by which the fire incident RMS collects and stores these data.

Increased integration between CAD and NFIRS-based RMSs has exposed some trends in the data that can have a significant impact on the accuracy and quality of the data collected. NFIRS data elements impacted by the integration of CAD and RMSs are Incident Numbers, Alarm Time, Arrival Time, Controlled Time, Last Unit Cleared Time and Incident Remarks/Narratives, as well as Dispatch, Arrival and Cleared times in the Apparatus and Personnel Modules.

Important points

  • Always check your NFIRS report for automatically populated fields and edit as needed.
  • Confirm that the data in all fields are correct and appropriate for the incident.
  • Work with RMS and CAD vendors to ensure fields are linked and populated correctly.
  • If fields are automatically populated within an optional NFIRS module, then all required fields for that module must be completed.
  • Remember, just because CAD populates fields in your NFIRS report, it does not mean that data cannot be edited or removed.
  • Carefully review the returned log files after submitting an import to the national database.

Incident numbers (key information)

A CAD-generated incident number may not fit the requirements for an NFIRS incident number. An NFIRS incident number must be a maximum of 7 digits and contain no special characters. The RMS may show the CAD system incident number in its entirety, but the RMS should export an incident number in the flat file which meets the NFIRS standard. This could mean only keeping a certain number of digits, such as the last 7 digits of the incident number, or everything to the right of a hyphen.

Incident numbers do not have to be in chronological or sequential order in NFIRS. For more information about incident numbers, see Formatting Your Incident Numbers.

Incident times (section E1 in the Basic Module)

Only some of the incident times captured by a CAD system have NFIRS counterparts, for example, the Basic Module's Alarm, Arrival, Controlled and Last Unit Cleared times. These times are crucial in determining travel times, response times and duration times for various incidents and can be used to analyze the incident response and manpower impacts to a community.


CAD systems often use the time of 911 notification as the Alarm Time when integrating with an RMS that supports NFIRS. This results in a significant increase in overall incident time. For NFIRS reporting purposes, the Alarm Time is the “actual month, day, year and time of day when the alarm was received by the fire department.” Additionally, CAD systems sometimes enter the Last Unit Cleared Time in the Arrival Time field when the fire department resource is dispatched but canceled en route.


Work with the CAD system administrator and NFIRS RMS vendor to ensure that the correct time is populated in the correct field.

Don't forget to check the:

  • Times for accuracy prior to signing your NFIRS report (Did it really take 90 minutes to arrive on the scene?). This includes having seconds imported from CAD.
  • Length of time between the Alarm Time and the Arrival Time.
  • Dates and Times included in the Apparatus and Personnel Modules, if used, as they may also be autopopulated. Also, note each Apparatus Module and Personnel Module has 3 Date/Time fields specific to a piece of apparatus. The Apparatus and Personnel modules collect Dispatch, Arrival and Cleared times.

For more information on incident times, see Dates and Times.

Remarks/Narratives (section L in the Basic Module)

Many CAD systems are linking a 911 dispatcher/call-taker “notes” field to the NFIRS Remarks field which results in the inclusion of a significant amount of dispatcher dialog.


Personally Identifiable Information (PII) as well as irrelevant information may be included in the NFIRS Remarks field.


Prior to submission, the NFIRS report should be carefully proofread, including the Remarks section. Information not relevant nor applicable to the incident should be removed.

For more information on the Remarks field, see Report Remarks — Telling the Story.

Apparatus and Personnel Modules

CAD systems will contain information about the resources responding to the scene. The information can assist the report writer by automatically including which apparatus and personnel on those apparatus responded, took action or were canceled before arriving.

Prior to submission, the NFIRS report should be reviewed to ensure the correct apparatus and personnel identifiers are being reported and that they match NFIRS specifications. This includes the Apparatus ID, Apparatus Type, Number of People arriving on the apparatus, Apparatus Use, Dates and Times related to the resource response, and Actions Taken per Apparatus or per Personnel. For Personnel specifically, include the Personnel ID, Name and Rank.

Including information about the resources responding to the scene can assist with running related reports in the Data Warehouse which may be beneficial to the local fire department for accountability.


For more information about NFIRS, please contact the NFIRS Support Center: Monday – Friday between 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. ET, at 888-382-3827 or by email at