As first responders, we collect information, learn from it, and put that knowledge to use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, some fire departments are still playing technology catch-up when it comes to actively using this data to support strategy development and other initiatives within their departments. Is your department leveraging its data to make firefighting stronger and more efficient?
Why Worry About Data?
Data can be daunting – both collecting data, as well as analyzing it and organizing it in a way that enables departments to make more data-driven decisions. But the benefits of embracing big data far outweigh the costs.
Benefits of becoming a data-driven fire house:
- Better compliance
- Better service, due to a better understanding of your usage patterns, local risks, etc.
- Improved staffing efficiency
- Time and money savings by streamlining processes, identifying inefficiencies, etc. – especially important in a possible recession
- Reduced time and energy spent on manual data input (with the right solutions in place)
- The ability to tell better stories to decision-makers and create stronger grant applications
Risks of not becoming a data-driven fire house:
- Penalties associated with not being in reporting compliance
- Inefficient operations, poor response times, insufficient response, etc.
- Wasted spend and effort
Data Use Cases for Fire Houses
One of the most significant challenges to fire service leaders is communicating a fire department’s value in a quantifiable manner. This becomes even more important during times of economic uncertainty or a possible recession.
According to Lexipol, fire department leaders must know how fire department resource deployment in their community affects outcomes in three critical areas:
- Firefighter injury and death
- Civilian injury and death
- Economic loss
On a national level, you can easily find summary data reported by the NFPA; for instance, that there were 1,342,000 reported fires in the U.S. in 2016, causing 3,390 civilian deaths and 14,650 civilian injuries, and $10.6 billion in property damage. Of those fires, 475,500 were structural fires, 173,000 were vehicle fires, and so on.
These statistics are informative, but they don’t provide real insight into the actions taken by first responders upon arrival in order to intervene, mitigate risks, and positively affect the outcome. This is why many fire chiefs compile information specific to the community they serve and issue annual reports. These reports are primarily developed for decision-makers and typically include response statistics, specialty team reports, and highlights of fire department services other than emergency response.
Annual reports provide an opportunity for fire chiefs to clearly communicate the department’s value and educate decision-makers. The kinds of fire department public safety and operational data points typically found in these annual reports, according to Lexipol, include:
- Fires per capita (per 1,000 population)
- Fire loss estimates vs. assessed property value
- Fire loss per capita (per 1,000 population)
- Civilian injuries/deaths per year
- Smoke detectors installed
- Total number of incidents
- Incident number/percentage by category (e.g., fire, EMS, hazmat)
- Incident number/percentage by type (e.g., cardiac, trauma, vehicle fire, trash fire)
- Response times overall and by specific service areas
- Total fire inspections and public education sessions conducted
It’s important to emphasize not only outcomes achieved but also the actual results associated with a given level of fire department resources and budgeted funding. That way, you tell the whole story – not just the ending.
For example, instead of just reporting the number of smoke detectors installed by the fire department, consider reporting whether any fires occurred in those structures (and, if they did, how severe they became). It’s information like this that helps tell a complete story of your department’s capabilities, activities, operational performance, and resilience.
Fight Fire with Data
Intelligence systems can help your department better relay and track data in order to improve operations. Unfortunately, many departments are still stuck in their old ways, relying heavily on manual data entry and paper-based processes – often collecting massive amounts of data that they don’t know how to compile in a usable and shareable format. So it just sits.
As an example, until 2015, the Boston Fire Department (BPD) had this exact problem. Although the department was collecting a significant amount of data, there were no tools or processes set in place to leverage it, drive the department’s operations, and increase efficiency, both in the field and administratively.
In 2015, BPD decided to invest in its data and collaborate with the Citywide Analytics Team to develop an intelligence system that would provide fire dispatchers with information to help them understand a building’s hazards. “With a fire, every second counts. Giving out information to trucks en route can save a lot of time. It also helps with tactical operations in terms of positioning trucks at the right locations during a fire.” (source)
There are countless software tools available, including Emergency Reporting, that can help your department improve its operations through activities such as outcomes reporting, compliance, asset management (i.e., rig checks), dispatching, and leveraging data to improve outcomes.
Becoming a Data-Driven Fire House
Adopting data-driven best practices may seem like a huge project to take on, especially if you haven’t done so before. But don’t let that deter you from making your department a data-driven one.
One place to start is your department’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, which provides a wealth of information including geocoded addresses for visualization of response data, type of call, and times for crew dispatch, arrival on scene, and termination of the response. These times are all significant in assessing performance and can be augmented by additional on-scene operational task times, such as water-on-fire time or at-patient-side time. Together, these data points tell your fire department’s story – portraying its effectiveness and, more importantly, the value of your department to your community. (source)
Unfortunately, CAD can be a bit of a “data dump,” lacking context or the kind of visualization capabilities that provide meaning, so it can be difficult for department leaders to glean actionable insight from their CAD data. If you have the time and resources to sift through your department’s CAD data, you can uncover the meaning. If you don’t, tools like Emergency Reporting can help.
With Emergency Reporting’s CAD integration, information from your dispatcher is automatically uploaded into your system in real time or at the end of the call. Stations that adopt a CAD link show improved staff productivity, enhanced data integrity, and save up to 10 minutes per call.
In addition, Emergency Reporting’s Analytics Module offers business intelligence analytics. The dashboards contained in Emergency Reporting’s BI Basic tool provide insight into incident and EMS data, with visualizations that will enable your department to leverage current and historical data to evaluate trends, drill into data variances, and make data-driven decisions.