Estimated 9 min reading time.
Welcome to The USFA Podcast, the official podcast of the United States Fire Administration. I’m your host, Teresa Neal. This month, we’re talking about 1 of USFA’s 4 stars, data collection.
One way we collect data is through the National Fire Incident Reporting System, NFIRS. NFIRS is a voluntary reporting standard that fire departments use to uniformly report on the full range of their activities; from fire to emergency medical services to severe weather and natural disasters. NFIRS is the world’s largest, national annual database of fire incident information. Over 24,000 fire departments help their communities reduce the risk from fires and other emergencies by reporting their incident data to NFIRS.
How does it work? After responding to an incident, a fire department completes the appropriate NFIRS modules. These modules collect details about the nature of the call, the actions firefighters took in response to the call, and the end results — including any casualties or property loss. The fire department submits this information to the state, tribal or territorial agency responsible for NFIRS. And then these agencies compile the data and share it with USFA.
So, why is this kind of data collection important? To find out, on this episode we will be joined by Marion Long. Marion has worked with NFIRS for more than 30 years, promoting the timely collection of high-quality emergency response data.
Hi, Marion. Thanks so much for joining us on The USFA Podcast. So how long have you been with USFA?
I have been working 12 years with the USFA as a fire program specialist for NFIRS, and have been working an additional 27 years with NFIRS data, and with data in general. I have worked with the Virginia Department of Fire programs as a state NFIRS program manager with the Commonwealth of Virginia Air Pollution Control Board, as a statistician working with air pollution data, and with the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulations, working with accounting data.
So, what first inspired you to focus on data collection?
I have to somewhat laugh with that question. I’ll start it off this way. From an early age, and most of my life, I have been collecting, documenting and using data both professionally and personally.
Some examples, at work, this is activity number 47,325, and this is presentation number 296. At home, I have spent $16,785 in gasoline in my cars, and for regulations, I have jogged more than 25,200 miles. That’s jogging and walking, that’s including 16 marathons and half marathons. To sum it up. I have been directly working with data for more than 40 years. I love collecting, analyzing and using data in decision making.
That’s amazing, Marion. What are some of the main reasons why NFIRS and data collection are so important to prevent fires?
NFIRS is the fire and emergency services tool to tell a story with data. Data always shows a pattern. The skill is recognizing the pattern and using it to bring about change.
To prevent fire tragedies, we use data as a tool, and we must become, I call it an actual data collector. The letters in actual means that the data is A, accurate, C, complete, T, timely, U, useful, A for available and L for long term. I believe if the fire and emergency services practice can become an actual data collector, I firmly believe that there is no way the data cannot benefit those agencies and the communities they serve in reducing loss to life and properties.
How do fire departments benefit from using NFIRS?
Where NFIRS as a common, acceptable, and proven standard with more than 24,000 fire departments collecting more than 28 million incidents annually. This makes NFIRS, I call it a critical business asset and tool for fighting fires.
And what is your perspective on the role of data collection when it comes to fire safety?
Well, it’s 2 points, the first point is this. Data collection should be second nature to the fire and emergency services and not an afterthought. That’s point number 1, and point number 2, when managing fire safety, data must be forefront in decision making.
And what is your vision for the future of NFIRS?
As I’ve mentioned, NFIRS is a, I call it a proven system, and it’s based on a wide standard that the emergency services and all fire departments use in the United States.
Data always shows a pattern. The skill is recognizing the pattern and using it to bring about change.
So, you believe that it should just be used by everyone? Is there anything specific that you think is the, is that added benefit?
Well, the benefit of NFIRS is that it’s a common language that the fire service speaks, and data collectors and data users use to be able to analyze as far as the fire service.
And do you have any stories that you can share?
What we have been doing at the United States Fire Administration, this is dealing with a COVID-19 special study. We’re in the third year of the COVID-19 special study. This is the first ever USFA national special study.
The study was quickly implemented nationally at the start of the virus in the United States. It asked the question if COVID-19 was a factor in the response to an incident. It has documented more than 14 million incidents with the special study in 2 years, from 11,000, over 11,300 fire departments, it has documented that 61,000 of those incidents were either confirmed or suspected as it related to COVID-19.
What we know from the data, 2.4 million fire departments have responded with 925,000 pieces of apparatus. We also know that the primary incident type was EMS responses. And from looking at the NFIRS data, we know that the actions taken for those incidents was ALS and BLS support. And when looking at the property use, we were able to document that 1- and 2- family dwellings, 24-hour care facilities, multifamily dwellings were the top 3 uses of the incidents. That’s just one example of using data and NFIRS to address emerging issues in the United States.
Is there anything else you would like to add about NFIRS? It’s importance, what we do with the data?
I have a saying, and that’s that in the fire service, we must fight fires with facts.
I have a saying, and that’s that in the fire service, we must fight fires with facts. I firmly believe that we can better manage with good data, and I believe on the job and in life, data always shows a pattern. But the art and the trick, not the art and the trick, but the art and the skill is being able to recognize the pattern, and using that to be able to benefit, in this case would be the fire service and the citizens of United States.
Do you have any examples of that, Marion, of how we’ve used, or you’ve used, or you’ve known of a fire department that has used the data and has been better able to track or focus?
As I mentioned, what we’re doing right now, in this 3-year special study, as far as using it to be able to address this COVID-19 issue that we have in the United States. It was the first ever, it was the first ever special study that we implemented at a national level.
What I thought was kind of neat, and what’s neat about this special study, we were able to quickly implement and set it up for the first time. So, it was good to see that we were able to address a need and start collecting data. And like I said, it’s the first ever doing that, we see that it is a good tool to be able to address future situations that come up in the United States to collect this information from fire departments.
Do you have anything else that you would like to add about NFIRS in general, data collection, the importance of data?
My key thing I always like to say is this: we must fight fires with facts. I’m just a true data believer, I just believe in the importance of collecting good data. I believe on the job and in life, data always shows a pattern.
And Marion, can you take a moment, you told us a story before about how you realized a health issue because of how well you track your data. Could you tell us about that
I love data, so you’re going to have to excuse me when I tell the story.
No, this is something that people should know, how important data is. Sometimes we just think it’s filling out that report, and then it goes off into the ether. But you know how important tracking data is, you know that those reports don’t go out into the ether, they are used for collecting information that shows patterns.
Okay, you asked for it, so here it comes.
Data always shows a pattern. That’s the key thing. As I mentioned, one of the things that I like to do to relax, believe it or not, is running. And as I mentioned, I have logged over 25,000 miles, just running and walking. I used to run marathons, but I don’t run marathons anymore. And people say, why did you stop running marathons? I said, my data. And when I say my data, they look me and say, what do you mean? I track every mile that I run, not only do I track my miles, believe it or not, I have a graph that shows the trend of my running.
And I have goals. I try to do a marathon a year, but I have not run a marathon in the last year, and the reason why is because data always shows a pattern. And what is the pattern? About 4 years ago, I had a blood clot, and the blood clot actually went through my heart and settled in my lungs. I was actively running during that time. So I went to the doctor and the doctor gave me the necessary meds and said, you’ll be fine, you can just keep running, and just do what you need to do. So, I did that. A year later, I had another blood clot. That clot also went through my lungs and settled in my body.
I was sitting there looking at my data and I noticed something. Remember, I said not only do I document, I also have a chart, and just noticed a trend. And then all of a sudden, I realize, data always shows a pattern. And what I mean by that is that I used to run 1 marathon a year, and that marathon is always in October near my birthday. And I was looking at my data for the first time that I had the blood clot and I noticed a trend. And here was the trend: January, February, March, April, May, everything was fine. Then all of a sudden, when I’m looking at the number of miles that I’m running in June, July, August, September, October, that year I had the blood clot. I looked at my data for the second year, January, February, March, April, May, everything looked okay.
Then right around July, August, September, October, I had the second blood clot. Then I was wondering, I said, this is kind strange. How come I’m having the blood clot right about the same time of the year? Data always shows a pattern. And then I realized that, I’ve mentioned to you I run one marathon a year, that marathon is always in October near my birthday. And then I realized that those months that I had the blood clot were also the months when I start increasing my training for the marathon.
I run half marathons now. And the reason why, because I was putting too much of a stress on my body training for marathons. And that’s a personal example to me how data always shows a pattern. If I did not collect the data, if I did not have the chart, I would’ve missed that pattern. Always tell people this: you think you know, but if you don’t document, if you don’t use data, you’re missing things. And that’s also a message for the fire service.
I believe that if they properly document the activities that they do, if they use that data in decision making, they will see patterns that they wouldn’t ordinarily see. And the reason why, what data does, it allows us to visualize and allows us to use an additional ability in our body, to be able to recognize some things. I’m a true data believer, so you have to excuse me, I don’t apologize for it. I just know the importance of data, and what data has done for me both professionally and personally.
That’s great, Marion. I just think that it’s such a testament to how important it is to track our data, to be mindful of it. It also just shows that you not only are part of this NFIRS family, but you are also, I mean you live it, and that’s just a testament to who you are. Is there anything else you would like to add?
No, I just want to thank you for inviting me, and also our agency, to talk to the public about the importance of data. And if you remember just one thing, data always shows a pattern. If you document your data, if you use your data in decision making, there is no way that it cannot benefit you, your agency, and for the fire service, there’s no way that it cannot benefit the public that we serve.
Thank you so much, Marion.
Thank you for listening to The USFA Podcast and thank you to our guest Marion Long for joining us today. Want to learn how your fire department can begin reporting NFIRS? Contact your state’s NFIRS program manager or the NFIRS help desk to learn more. For fire safety community members, check if your department is reporting, and if your department is reporting, check who’s responsible for entering those records.
We hope that you’ve enjoyed learning more about NFIRS and data collection. You can join the conversation about fire safety by emailing your questions and sharing your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org That’s email@example.com.
Next month, we’ll discuss community risk reduction. Until then, you can visit us at usfa.fema.gov for more information. Stay safe.