What is NFIRS?
Data is a powerful tool in painting an accurate picture of the U.S. fire industry for creating helpful and necessary legislation, planning budgets, and more. But just like any set of information, you must ensure you are comparing “apples to apples” – in other words, that a common set of variables is collected, in the same way, with the same vocabulary and criteria. This is the only way to ensure your resulting reports are accurate and actually helpful in accomplishing established goals.
What is NFIRS?
With this understanding, the National Fire Data Center (NFDC) within the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) established the National Fire Incident Reporting System – known as NFRIS – to set standards of collection and reporting from local fire agencies. The result is a voluntary – yet robust – database that accurately describes the state of fire agencies operating in state, local, tribal, and U.S. territory governments. In fact, NFIRS is the world’s largest, national, annual database of fire incident information, reporting on more than 75% of fires that occur every year.
Objectives of NFIRS
To truly make a difference with reporting data, you must ensure that all your submitting agencies are “speaking the same language,” using the same standards and reporting processes. Data is incredibly helpful in setting benchmarks, identifying the most common fire risks, setting proper budgets, and more – but only if your data is trustworthy and consistent.
In establishing NFIRS in 1976, the NFDC was working toward two objectives:
- Help state, local, tribal, and U.S. territory governments develop fire reporting and analysis capabilities for their own use.
- Obtain data that can be used to assess and combat the fire problem at a national level.
NFIRS also works to simplify the data submission process to the national database. Since many fire agencies collect large amounts of incident data already, the NFIRS process simplifies reporting on each incident to a specific set of information that is relatively easy to extract. Establishing this common set of data points encourages agencies large and small to participate and be represented in the fire industry’s national picture.
What Types of Data Does NFIRS Collect?
NFIRS collects incident level data across 11 key areas or “modules” after a fire incident occurs. Each module helps report writers to describe the incident – with data – to help ensure a uniform and complete picture of the incident is created. The module helps define the nature of the call, the actions firefighters took, and the results. Data collected ranges from basic information such as response times, personnel, and apparatus used to the more complex such as hazardous materials response, arson investigation, property loss, and causalities.
How NFIRS Data is Collected
After responding to an incident, a fire department completes the appropriate NFIRS modules. Later, the agency submits its all-incident data to the state, tribal or territorial agency responsible for NFIRS data (state reporting deadlines and frequencies vary). The state agency then gathers data from all its participating departments and reports the compiled data to the USFA.
How FEMA and State Governments Use Fire Data
NFIRS data is not only helpful at a national level but also informative about state and local operations. FEMA, who house the USFA, can use the data to better understand fire service needs and statistics at a more granular level. It can then report to House or Senate Committees on the most common fire risks, needs, and other statistical data helpful in creating legislation.
Similarly, at the state level, NFIRS data is useful in supporting pro-fire legislation and bills, adding real-world data to the discussion. This information can also help support fire-reduction legislation, like regulations for sprinklers and fireworks, and in dealing with arson cases. Additionally, many federal agencies use NFIRS data to make more effective guidelines, including the use of hazardous materials in consumer products.
At a local level, station managers can download historical data to get a useful view of trends, operations, and response data for their stations. For example, this data may be used at a local level to create more targeted Community Risk Reduction (CRR) programs, like fire prevention and educational programs. It can also help an agency prioritize activities and training and plan budgets based on its most common incident types and busy seasons.
How NFIRS Benefits Fire Departments
While most American citizens understand the fire industry’s fundamental value, many most likely do not have an accurate understanding of the scope and frequency of what goes on in a fire station. It can be hard to quantify that value without accurate, consistent data points. NFRIS can effectively help a fire agency tell its fire data story.
In other words, key data points, tracked consistently over time, can help a fire agency easily show exactly what it has been accomplishing, where its budget is spent. The direct impact it has had on the health and safety of its community. NFIRS is a valuable tool in creating a common language that allows local department data to be compared on a state and national level, to compare performance and trends. Additionally, historical data can be shared easily in budget discussions, grant submissions, PR meetings, and a wide range of public-facing activities.
Incident data is also key in creating effective QI/QA programs to improve processes and performance for a station. Not only does it help establish better project goals, but it is important in tracking progress and making adjustments as needed. The results can also help justify time and resources being spent on QI/QA projects and lay the groundwork for future focus areas.
Leveraging Software for NFIRS Reporting
While the NFIRS program’s value to the fire service is undeniable, good data from local agencies is essential to understanding the real issues and needs of the fire service. Many departments are turning to fire software to serve a wide range of data needs, including NFIRS submissions.
For example, ESO Fire Incidents automatically captures all of the required information across the 11 defined NFIRS modules and submits it to the state on your behalf, so you don’t have to worry about missing submission deadlines. Additionally, the tool’s progressive validation feature ensures that you do not miss any fields and get clean data every time. Automating the process can help make getting useful insight into your agency easier than ever, and participating in NFIRS simple.
Data is the key to better understanding the fire industry’s risks, challenges, and strengths at all levels. Agencies that participate in the data collection efforts of NFIRS help improve not only their own safety and careers but also those of firefighters in the years to come. This insight is also beneficial to all U.S. citizens’ safety and property, especially when it comes to understanding fire prevention. In this way, firefighters are proactively protecting Americans’ health of the fire field with the same dedication they offer during a fire incident.
Take an interactive tour of ESO Fire Incidents software now.
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