955 firefighters died in the line of duty from 2004 – 2013. That’s an average of 95 per year during that 10-year span.
To combat this unacceptable number, the TAMPA2 Summit convened in March 2014. Fire service leaders assembled in Florida to assess the effectiveness of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives in reducing firefighter deaths in the line of duty since the original Tampa Summit in 2004.
Although the participants agreed progress has been made since the inception of the FFLSIs, more work is needed to achieve the goal of reducing the number of annual firefighter fatalities to fifty or less.
The participants analyzed each of the 16 Initiatives to determine what changes, if any, were needed to improve their efficacy going into their second decade. As I looked over the report, one initiative stood out as particularly interesting: TAMPA2 participants thought there were substantial opportunities to improve the implementation of FFLSI #7 “Create a national research agenda and data collection system that relates to the initiatives.”
The report quotes the group, “Data quality is a big issue.” They also asked, “Are we collecting the right data?” And lastly, this admonishment, “We dismiss the importance of data collection. We’ll train in the heat and snow for hours, but won’t take 3 minutes to properly fill out a report. After all, reports don’t put out fires.” Ouch. That hits hard.
When I’m teaching departments how to use our records management system, I ask them, ‘Do you spend more time running calls or more time in front of a computer documenting calls, training and your daily activity? ‘ Invariably, the answer is always the latter.
Sure, we’d all rather be pulling a line into a burning structure or rescuing a trapped patient from a motor vehicle collision, but the simple reality is that today’s fire service is data-driven. Effective decisions related to the other 15 FFLSIs stem from this initiative. Simply, good data in equals good data out. Good data out leads to better decision-making at all levels of the fire service. Effective decision-making leads to lives saved.
One of the steps identified to improve Initiative #7 is to “Train firefighters and company officers on the benefits of good data collection.” This may be the most important step of all. We must begin teaching recruit firefighters on day one of their academy that effective documentation and data collection is just as important to saving lives as fire stream application and rescue techniques.
Will data collection ever be as fun as packing out to go interior? Nope, probably not. But, there’s a reason it’s part of the 16 Firefighter Life Safety Initiatives: Good data drives the decisions that can prevent LODDs. It’s time we give it greater value in the American fire service.