How Data Empower First Responders
In an information-rich age, data are constantly flowing to and from devices, towers, and satellites. While it can seem overwhelming at times, data are a valuable tool in the hands of first responders, helping them to accomplish their jobs more efficiently and effectively with less risk to their own personal wellbeing.
Below are five ways that data can help responders in their daily work:
1. Situational Awareness
The most practical way that data assist first responders is in their situational awareness during response to a call. For example, access to digital fire preplans and inspections can help incident command form the best possible response plan when arriving at a structure fire. Information like layout, hidden obstacles and hazardous materials, number of occupants, and even lock codes can save valuable minutes and reduce firefighter risk.
Thermal Imaging Cameras (TICs) can deliver helpful data on hidden hot spots, air temperature that might suggest backdrafts, and locations of unresponsive citizens hidden in smoke. Additionally, today’s fire PPE can often send helpful data back to incident command for each firefighter on the fireground, monitoring oxygen, body temps, heart rate, and more.
Data on ambulance or fire truck locations can assist dispatch in using agency resources more efficiently, while geolocation information data help alert responders to accidents, road hazards, or other problems that might slow arrival times, and even help them more quickly locate water sources if needed.
2. Employee Health and Wellness
Many of the risks first responders experience are physical, especially those on the fireground. Unfortunately, first responders also face many hidden dangers that can be just as deadly if not addressed. For example, research shows that first responders are disproportionately at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from repeated exposure to trauma, with suicide rates even eclipsing LOD deaths. Other studies show that 85% of first responders have experienced symptoms related to mental health issues.
Another concerning trend is the growing potential connection between cancers and exposure to hazardous chemicals during clean up or from fire suppression materials. Heart disease continues to be a concern for firefighters, while first responders also must face the physical and mental effects of disrupted sleep, shift work, high rates of burnout, and even potential threats to physical safety during a call.
The good news is that fire departments can begin to turn the tide and better support firefighter wellbeing using data. For example, through personnel software, alerts can be created to notify management when a certain number of traumatic events have been responded to during a specific timeframe.
This alert can then trigger various proactive support actions, such as informal debriefs, sessions with counselor or chaplain, or extra time off. Just like tracking hazardous material exposure can improve decontamination protocols, tracking incidents that are potentially harmful to mental health can go a long way in the fight against PTSD and firefighter suicide.
3. Reduction in Burnout
While the majority of firefighters chose their career to help people and protect their community, it is also true that paperwork and administrative tasks can also make up a significant portion of a firefighter’s job. Data – specifically operational data – can actually improve standard operating procedures (SOPs) and workflow, reducing busy work and redundancies. By creating QA/QI projects based on real-world data from your agency, you can improve job satisfaction for your employees.
In already stressful jobs, small improvements in workflow and benefits can keep firefighters with your department longer. For example, evaluating industry-wide salary data can help ensure that your employees are being paid on-par with similar departments and can arm you with the information you need during budgetary discussions.
Data on your most common incidents can likewise ensure you are scheduling training for your teams that is practical and helpful in their roles. Trends in number of incidents can help you make a case for more head count or options for volunteer fire fighters, helping lighten the burden on your veteran crew members. All of these factors help create an environment where staff feel appreciated, challenged, and understood.
4. Advocacy and State of the Industry
Data play an important role in ensuring the wellbeing of the fire industry as well. Whether it’s NFIRS or your state or local agencies requiring your data, you’re most likely expected to report regularly on specific metrics. The data from your department is helpful in forming an industry-wide picture of what fire departments need most, what challenges they face, the differences they are making in their communities, and much more.
State-of-the-industry reports like the ESO Fire Index and the ESO EMS Index are also helpful in setting performance benchmarks and in keeping an eye on emerging trends. Data reported from fire departments are also valuable to researchers looking for ways to keep firefighters healthier and safer, or those working on new safety products. Finally, industry data can be useful for advocates speaking up on causes important to the fire industry, like worker’s comp for hazardous chemical exposure or increased funding and grants.
5. Safer Communities
The data you collect from tracking your incidents can be helpful in creating strong Community Risk Reduction (CRR) programs. Better understanding your community, its demographics, and its most common risks can help you create an effective problem statement, plan of action, and benchmarks. All this helps ensure that your efforts in the community are making an impact.
Additionally, in a time where agencies are being asked to do more with less, grants can be extremely in helping your agency perform to the best of its abilities. There are a wide range of grants available to fire departments, and good, reliable data is imperative in creating competitive grant proposals. Many require months and months of data from your department. Once you receive a grant, you may also need to report regularly with data showing how you are using your grant funds and that you are maintaining all the required stipulations as a grant recipient.
Software That Offers Easier to Access Your Data
Fire departments today can benefit from powerful yet easy-to-use fire record management software (Fire RMS) that makes it easier to gather, maintain, and analyze department data. Gone are the days of paper records and Excel spreadsheets; today’s leading Fire RMS tools integrate with existing applications and platforms, and they simplify analytics and reporting on a wide range of data points.
Additional features also cover employee records, payroll, and training, making department managements easier than ever and creating a better work environment for all employees.