5 Reasons NFIRS Data Matters to Your Fire Department

  • Posted on December 23, 2020

It’s a regular part of the business for fire departments these days: collecting and submitting data to the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) regularly. And while NFIRS has its own top 3 reasons why this process is important – including quantifying the state of today’s U.S. fire service and creating a common data “language” for all departments – there are undoubtedly more benefits for the departments themselves and their local communities.

Fire departments are increasingly recognizing data as invaluable in not only tracking incidents but in proactively improving operations, community outreach, and job satisfaction for employees as well. If you’re not yet using your NFIRS data collection as a jumping-off point to make positive changes in your department, here are five key ways this information could help your department in the short- and long-term.

1. Understand exactly what’s going on with your department.

This may seem like common sense, but your department’s data is the best way to get an accurate picture of your operations. Rather than just going with a gut feeling or an anecdotal observation on how busy you have or haven’t been lately, hard data tells you exactly what your people are spending their time on. Looking back at data over time – a historical perspective – can help you identify trends, leading to practical decisions in planning that can make life much easier around the station.

Are there busier times of your year, based on climate or local events? Do certain parts of your city seem to be disproportionately active, meaning they could use more community outreach and prevention activities? What kind of calls do you most often receive, and is there additional training you could conduct to have a better-prepared response? Even things as simple as ensuring supplies are well-stocked for busy seasons can make life more efficient and prepared around the firehouse.

2. Make your fire data easier for others to understand.

Any fire chief can tell you, a good percentage of the job is spent explaining to others what exactly is going on in the department. Whether it’s the city council or the local news station, they are looking for easily digestible snippets of information that help them understand what you do and how you are helping the community. There’s no easier way to communicate your fire story than with statistics, and statistics come directly from a collection of good, clean data.

You can go into any meeting, press conference, or even conversation with a simple dashboard of operations, based on your own station’s data, and have much more productive conversations. Perhaps you’re going to bat for more funding during budget conversations. Maybe you’d like to give the public more information (and proof) about how a recent Community Risk Reduction (CRR) program was making an impact in the community by showing a reduction in property damage over time. The uses of your data are endless and waiting to be used.

3. Help plan for future needs.

Again, the bird’s-eye view of your department’s operations over time can illuminate the “low hanging fruit” of simple changes that can make a big difference. Trends can become programs, as you can easily spot areas of your community that would benefit from a CRR program. Maybe you see an uptick in a specific type of incident, and you realize your team would be better equipped to respond with specific training. Perhaps there is some new equipment or technology that you can now prove is worth the investment, based directly on real-world numbers from your past few months or year.

Another key benefit of gathering and processing your data easily is better preparedness for grant applications, as many require statistics over a significant period. If you’ve already been diligently collecting your data for NFIRS, ideally, you can use much of that to make your next grant application more competitive.

4. Create and conduct more effective quality improvement projects.

You may have had mixed success in the past, creating and completing a quality improvement (QI) project. Experts will tell you, one of the most important steps is creating your problem statement – or your aim – and using your data as your guide. This is key in ensuring you don’t waste time and resources on a project with little chance or real impact for your department. You then use your data to articulate your aim, ensuring that it is “S.M.A.R.T.” (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant/Realistic, Time-bound). This is a common practice in the consumer business world, and the steps work just as well for a fire department.

Additionally, your data is your best tool in measuring if your QI project is genuinely making a difference or if it needs to be readjusted. Your data helps you build internal support for your project and offers an instant payoff in the proof as you begin to change things positively. In an industry where time and resources are often restrained, proving that your efforts as making a measurable difference are invaluable.

5. Compare and collaborate with your peers.

If you’ve ever wondered how your department stacks up to others across the nation, data does indeed create a common language of comparison. While it’s important to note differences in size and demographics when making comparisons, it can be interesting and eye-opening to see what kinds of calls other departments are receiving, how they are responding, what sort of CRR efforts work best for them, what kind of improvements they have made over time, and the list goes on.

This shared language of information also supports the powerful organization of U.S. fire departments as a whole, supplying quantifiable proof to support nationwide initiatives. This evidence strengthens the fire service’s voice, helping it advocate for important causes such as funding for wildfire support or training for volunteer fire departments. Clean, real-time data is critical in making a persuasive argument and proving a need.

The uses of clean, real-time data on your fire department reach far beyond checking the boxes in your requirements for NFIRS and on into your daily operations. The good news is that today’s top fire enterprise Records Management Systems (RMS) like ESO Fire make it easier than ever to ensure that data is entered efficiently, correctly, and consistently, and can be compared across time for a wide range of uses. Going digital with your data promises long-reaching benefits for your station and your community, as you use your data to make your operations more efficient and effective.

Ready to see how ESO Fire can leverage your NFIRS data in a whole new way? Click here.