Unlock Your Fire Data Story

Posted on July 29, 2020
Tags: Fire

Fire departments are increasingly being asked to share data that offers greater insight into what they do on a daily basis, as well as the value they bring to their community. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of data can be overwhelming, and many departments feel unsure about how to apply data in a real-world manner or don’t recognize the benefits of using data outside of their station.

The bottom line is that using data to tell your story improves your operations as well as the health and safety of your community. Whether you are planning the location for your next station, making the ask for an increase in staffing, or answering a media request about your latest incident response, real data is the key in proving your point and making it stick.

So why should you put the time and effort into telling your own fire story? First, no one can tell your story like you; you understand the nuances of your department, how your system works, its history, strengths, and challenges. Second, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and most likely, with less accuracy. Don’t give anyone that chance.

Finally, your fire story – backed up with factual, undeniable data – is one of your most potent tools for highlighting why your department is vital to your community and the best way to rally support. Numbers talk, and trends can show not only what’s going well, but areas that need more assistance, whether that means more staff, newer equipment, or additional facilities.

How do we tell our story, and why tell it?

ESO recently partnered with Firehouse Magazine with a webcast that dove deeper into the topic of why your fire story is important, and the best way to use data to tell it. Speakers Bill Gardner, CFO, CFE, EMT-P, Senior Director of Fire Products at ESO, and Chris Barron, Fire Chief, Travis County Emergency Services District #5 Manchaca Fire/Rescue Department – Austin, Texas, spent time discussing ideas for preparing a strong data story.

Their recommendations for preparing a data story included:

  1. Create a committee of leaders within your department and consider bringing in other community leaders (city planners, EMS leadership, etc.) to explore, define, and assess the greatest needs you face.
  2. Start by gathering key data, including response time analysis, the number of runs by apparatus, dispatch to arrival, call types, etc.
  3. Layer the data by zip code or by using a box-based analysis tool to understand the appropriate geographies you should speak to.
  4. Once you have the data, explore what the data is telling you and make your decisions based on the facts. For example, if you’re looking to build a new station, as yourself, where you should build it based on the data, what type of station should it be, and what it will deliver. For example, will this new station deliver lower response times, increased customer service, or something different that is currently missing.

Your Story Must Justify Funding

Of course, one of the most practical and important jobs of a data story is to justify funding for your department. It’s true that taxpayers are investing in your department, and you should be a good steward of those dollars. Chiefs Garner and Barron went on to explain that your data can illustrate the ROI this investment is making, and how your presence is improving the health and safety of your community.

Your data should illustrate how you are currently meeting the requirements of today… or why you are not. It should not be seen as a failure, but an opportunity to look for solutions and this could mean more staffing, more training, or newer equipment.

When meeting with elected officials, boards, and other approval bodies, make sure you clearly articulate not only why you need the funding (using data), but how the funding will return to the community and your expected timelines for seeing any improvement. Remember, your information must be factual and undeniably clean. It plays directly into your integrity and any argument for additional support, today and in the years to come.

Your Story Must Be Connected to People

Remember that the fire service is indeed in a service industry, and you should tie your data story back into how you are helping the people. While most people understand the incident response, many might not think about community outreach programs, interventions, and other proactive ways you are improving community health and safety.

Again, hard data can show real and expected return on investment. These numbers are not only helpful in telling the story what your department does but make the case of how you could do even more with support for your requests. Paint a picture of the difference you can make by using trends in data based on your community and its history and characteristics.

Your Fire Data at Your Fingertips

All of these recommendations, of course, hinge on the fact that you are collecting key metrics and can easily access them and turn them into something useful. The good news is that fire departments can utilize specialized software – also known as record management systems (RMS) – to store, sort, and analyze a wide range of data points specific to the fire industry.

These tools make it easier to enter data, maintain records, and quickly pull and process key variables when needed. The top RMS tools even automatically submit your required data to NEMSIS and other reporting organizations. They truly put the power in your hands and let you spend less time number crunching and more time viewing the big picture.

The real secret to unlocking your fire data story is taking the data you collect and applying in a way that provides value to not only your crew but to the community you serve. Rather than a gut feeling or following the pervasive climate, real-world data tell an undeniable story and states your case more precisely and accurately than any other form of communication. Take the time today to prepare your story and add it to your arsenal of tools that make your department more helpful and efficient in your community.

Watch the full webcast, “Unlock Your Fire Data Story,” now.

Take a tour of the RMS tool, ESO Fire.