The Best Data to Illustrate a Fire Department’s Value

ESO Staff

Although firefighters primarily think of people they protect and serve as members of their community, they are, in fact, also customers. And just like any business, it’s important for executives and officers to understand the value of quality metrics and data – not just in improving or maintaining team performance, but in being able to communicate value to the customer.

Showing Fire Department Impact

How does a fire department go about communicating  performance data in a way that community members can easily understand and appreciate? And remember, community members aren’t just residents; they also elected officials and the media. It’s true that most members of the public probably pay little mind to the daily operations of a fire department until they are in immediate need of help. Therefore, it’s imperative to illustrate ways that the department is regularly and constantly providing service to the community in little-publicized but highly important ways.

In their recent presentation at the International Association of Fire Chief’s Fire-Rescue international conference in August, Chiefs John Binaski and Michael Despain discussed how fire and EMS departments can present data that’s easily and quickly understood by their communities. The presentation encouraged agencies to consider not only the metrics that are important to team performance, but the actual impact to the community in saved lives, property, and dollars. This may mean adjusting the mindset of the department when it comes to metrics, or at least adding a few additional recorded data points to gather along the way.

For example, two typical measures recorded by fire departments are response time and call volume, both of which help paint a picture of how much work is being done, and how efficiently. However, focusing on outcomes might be a more impactful – and more easily understood – data point for community members. While your team’s response times may be good, how long did the entire process take from initial call to arrival? And when your team arrives on scene, was it consistently fully prepared to act with the proper staff, skill, and equipment to be effective? A fast arrival means very little without swift, effective action.

Understanding Your Audience

Just like any customer, you can get a glimpse into the perspectives of your community members by employing the “what’s in it for me?” mindset. While the behind-the-scenes data is an important metric for the health of your agency, when it comes to communicating value to the public, think in practical, concrete numbers. For example, consider reporting on:

  • Cardiac survival rates
  • Percentage of time a fire is stopped in a room of origin
  • Operational costs compared to other similar agencies
  • How changes in the level of service would impact fire insurance premiums

Once you’ve put yourself in your audience’s shoes, so to speak, and you’ve identified the practical metrics that will make an impact, it’s important to begin collecting that data for your agency right away. If you use a software tool in your daily operations, look into reports that measure these key metrics. You may need to reach out to other departments or entities to cross-reference your data (for example, receiving patient outcomes from your hospital partners). Look at how your team compares to other departments of similar size. You could even get to know local insurance companies to get more concrete metrics on recovery and restoration processes and costs, or to help quantify how a decreased fire service might impact premiums.

It’s true that most community members appreciate the work done by their local fire departments to save lives and property, and the EMTs who deliver immediate care on-scene. But when it comes time for politicians to create and tweak their funding budgets – or community members to vote on bonds or budget changes – it’s important that the value of a fire service be communicated in concrete, undeniable ways.

Learn more about fire-specific software tools, like ESO Fire Incidents, that can help you accurately document and report key information to support your case for new equipment, increased staffing, more training, and other helpful tools.

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