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Fire Data: Making the Connection from Output to Outcome

ESO Staff

Datapoints and metrics continue to play an important role in the day-to-day function of fire agencies.

Outputs are Useful and Important

With numerous reporting requirements at national and state levels, as well as agency-level quality improvement projects, you may feel it’s easy to get bogged down in the numbers. The data can be sliced and diced so many ways: you can look at performance for individuals, performance by shift, performance by district, over a week, a day, a year, the list goes on.

Being able to accurately and easily track data for your agency is key in ensuring your staffing, your equipment, your operating budget, as well as ensuring you remain in compliance and accredited. Benchmarks need data, to show improvement, or to compare performance with peers from across the nation. In fact, ESO recently released its third Fire Service Index, sharing data compiled from 260 fire departments and 1,358,126 records from January 1, 2019-December 31, 2019.

That said, there is also a need to look at the big picture for your agency – based on your agency’s values and vision – to establish goals not only for outputs but for behaviors and traits. What does success look like for your agency? Once you’ve established this, you can ensure your day-to-day activities all point to that goal.

Making the Connection from Output to Outcome

So how can you achieve some clarity and ensure that what you are tracking will really make a difference for your agency and your community? The key factor is ensuring that your outputs – those day-to-day metrics you’re measuring – truly contribute to your outcomes – the resulting stats that illustrate a real-world difference in your community.

It’s helpful to understand the difference between output measurements and outcome measurements, as you review your data and benchmarks. Output metrics are pure data points relating to process; for example: unit hours of utilization (UHU), number of calls for service, training hours, number of fire prevention inspections, number of smoke detectors installed, etc. These are useful in seeing how your agency is operating on a day-to-day basis.

Next, take a step back and look at the bigger picture, to find your outcomes, or which data points illustrate what kind of impact you are making on the community. These might include things like: firefighter or civilian injury or death rate in locations without smoke detectors compared to locations with smoke detectors, cost per incident or population, insurance rates in your community, number of fires contained or extinguished with fire sprinklers, treatment outcomes, etc.

Now, take a moment to connect the dots and ensure that your outputs are supporting your outcomes. Using your department’s values, think about what traits and behaviors will help you over the long-term; some of these might be harder to measure but still important. You might need to reevaluate existing metrics, or add new measures.

Challenges for Fire Service Industry

In the fire service industry, there is a wide range of required and expected reporting avenues. Starting with NFIRS data, you’re most likely being asked for data by NFPA, your state, your city manager, maybe even your local press. Historically, the fire service has measured things like call volume, incident type, and average response time.  These benchmarks are hugely important to ensure operational efficiency and identify any gaps in training and process.

However, a challenge faced in the fire industry is a clear and definable measure of success. While in a hospital setting, the patient health at discharge and 90 days post-discharge make a clear standard of success. However, finding a simple standard for successful outcomes is a bit trickier for the fire industry. As pointed out in a recent article in Fire Engineering, because of how fire departments typically measure fire response, a building can burn down (an outcome) even when all of the output measurements met a standard established by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), accreditation, or ISO.

Establish Your Outcomes

So how can you establish outcome metrics that are useful in measuring the impact you’re having in your community? In a recent article by Measurement Resources, they provided a 5-step process to identifying key outcomes and ensuring your outputs support them. They include:

  1. Describe the big-picture outcomes you want to achieve.
  2. Turn the identified outcomes into a quantitative measure (what would success in this area look like?).
  3. Confirm that your desired outcomes are actually linked to your outputs or activities. Ensure that it is reasonable to expect your desired outcomes to be achieved based on your activities.
  4. Implement these measures and track them over time.
  5. Demonstrate and increase your success using your data to confidently and appropriately communicate your impact and value.

The discussion on how to best define outcomes for the fire service continue to evolve, but it is clear that gathering clean, helpful data will remain an important task for fire agencies. Not only does data help agencies make improvements and prove value, but it drives the industry to deliver the best service to the community, ultimately saving property and lives.

For more ideas of how to better collect, store, and analyze your fire data, visit www.eso.com/fire.

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