What to Look for in NFIRS Reporting Software
Since the 1970s, the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) has been actively working towards its two main objectives: to 1) help state, local, tribal, and U.S. territory governments develop fire reporting and analysis capabilities, and 2) obtain data that can be used to assess and combat fire problems at a national level. Over the years, fire departments across the nation have voluntarily participated by submitting their activities – from fire and EMS to severe weather and natural disasters – helping create what NFIRS says is the world’s largest, national, an annual database of fire incident information, reporting on more than 75% of all fires that occur every year.
Through this process, a key component has been the establishment of standard reporting processes and vocabulary. Since many fire agencies already collect large amounts of data, the NFIRS process sets reporting requirements (or “modules”) for each incident to a specific set of relatively easy to extract information. Establishing this common set of data points encourages agencies of all sizes to participate and represent the fire industry’s national picture.
How Software Helps
To help meet NFIRS requirements and manage their own station operations and metrics, many departments are turning to software explicitly designed to help fire departments handle and process their records. Known as enterprise Records Management Systems (RMS), these tools digitize records so that they can be easily stored, analyzed, shared, and used for a wide range of purposes.
The benefits of using a Fire RMS system are extensive and far-reaching across department operations. But making the leap to set up a new RMS – or upgrading from an older system – can feel a bit daunting. Not only does it represent a substantial investment in funds and person-hours (researching, purchasing, and training), but it tends to mean a commitment of several years of use for the new tool. And of course, you’ll want to be sure it gives you exactly what you need – if not more – when it comes to NFIRS reporting and analytics tools.
While it is not a decision to take lightly, you can become a well-informed and “smarter” NFIRS software shopper by including these essential points in your purchasing process.
1. NFIRS Software Compliance
You might think this is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised to learn that many RMS vendors are not yet fully compatible with the latest NFIRS standards. You can check the NFIRS website to see a list of active vendors who have developed, tested, and proven their products to be compatible with the NFIRS 5.0 database standard. Taking this step early in the process will help ensure you’re working with a company committed to staying at the forefront of industry and reporting developments.
2. User-Friendly Features
One of the most common complaints from staff is how new software sometimes seems to make their jobs harder, not easier. When you’re searching for a new NFIRS software solution, make sure you’re looking for user-friendly features, such as:
- Validation Tools: Look for built-in features that ensure reports can’t be submitted without filling in the required sections, reducing the number of reports bounced back from NFIRS. Fewer bounced reports mean more complete data and happier staff who no longer have to go back in to add missed details or fields.
- Device Compatibility: Select software that you can use across various types of devices. You may need to use Toughbooks, iPads, or even desktop computers to write your reports, and you’ll want NFIRS software that can adapt to your department’s tools and technology.
- Easy-to-Use Interface: The way the software environment looks and operates is just as important as the data it collects. You should look for NFIRS software that is intuitive and easy to navigate, saving time in data entry and making crews less likely to complain.
- Integration with Plus-One Codes: Your NFIRS software should support plus-one codes so you can easily track incidents. Plus-one codes help reduce duplication of reporting by further defining incident types. Top NFIRS software allows you to add up multiple Plus-One codes per code to help you submit your NFIRS report with confidence.
3. Injury, Exposure, and Critical Events Reporting
While NFIRS software’s goal is to track the amount, type, cause, and state of the fire service in general, it is also useful to understand how firefighters are injured, exposed to hazardous chemicals and infectious diseases, and even experience traumatic events.
Recent reports show that firefighters suffered almost 61,000 injuries in the line of duty in 2019; with the start of the COVID pandemic, risks for exposure to infectious diseases undoubtedly rose exponentially in 2020. Statistically, firefighters also have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general U.S. population, possibly due to exposure to hazardous chemicals. And sadly, first responders are more at risk for suffering from PTSD, increasing their risk for addiction, sleep disruption, and even suicide.
The benefits of tracking this type of personnel data can be beneficial at a broad level to seek funding for federal and state intervention and care programs and with research to reduce these risks for future firefighters. It can help your department identify common locations of exposure at a local level, enable peer support teams, and create a more supportive culture. This all plays into helping your crews stay safe and healthy and receive assistance if they should need it.
4. Integration with Other Software
Your NFIRS software should play well with others. Consider the daily functions of working between your various department systems; you may need interactions with CAD, ePCR software, personnel management, and even scheduling tools. You don’t want to find yourself creating workarounds or reentering data numerous times; integrations with other software adds up to big time-savings and efficiencies.
5. Incident Reporting and Analytics
Data collection is essential, but it’s even more critical to review and understand your data. You’ll want an NFIRS software that offers built-in analytics aligned to the metrics that are important to your department and the fire service overall. Look for a vendor that provides pre-built reports and the ability to create and develop your reporting.
Being able to see and share your data easily helps you track progress on QI/QA projects, plan for budgets, improve processes, and share your fire story with the public. Additionally, grant applications typically require historical data that must be pulled from your incidents and operations. No more need for Excel spreadsheets and calculators; top NFIRS software can make your reporting quick, painless, and more accurate.
6. Forward-Thinking Vendors
When searching for NFIRS software, a sometimes-overlooked part is looking at how the vendor thinks about the fire service’s future. Certainly, you want a vendor that offers the features and data you need to be successful, but you should also look for vendors who want to know how they can help solve your problems today and in the future.
When shopping for vendors, consider how responsive they are and how/if they participate in thought leadership in the industry. You want to be sure that this is a reputable vendor with good reviews (check online sites like Online review sites like G2 and Capterra, or with your peers in the industry) and will be around for years to come. Look for a vendor that delivers not only powerful tools but an understanding of the fire industry.
Data for Today and Tomorrow
Doing your part to support the efforts of NFIRS truly benefits not only today’s firefighters but those that will be serving in the years and decades to come. Reliable, real-time data can help shape legislation, procedures, benefits, and preventative care. It can help identify risks that have never been recognized before and reduce the amount of property and lives lost across the U.S. Utilizing NFIRS software tools can make this part of your job easier and more efficient than ever, putting more power into your hands to improve your department and the fire industry as a whole.