"Speak with data…" is a saying in research and engineering that reinforces the need for data to support any position, conclusion or recommendation. Clearly, substantiating data is essential to making a case for financial support, policy changes and code and legislative changes—changes that are an ongoing concern for the fire service in our quest for a safer country.
The National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) program has been the key fire service data-collection mechanism for nearly 40 years. The genesis of the reporting system was the publication of the America Burning report produced by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control in 1973. This report provided the catalyst for Public Law 93-498, the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974. In turn, that law led to the establishment of the U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Academy.
The America Burning transmittal letter and introduction included a number of critical, forward-looking statements about data being a vehicle for change:
- The Commission worked in a field where statistics are meager. (Translation: we knew we had a problem, but we had no tools to analyze it.)
- Develop a comprehensive national fire data system, which will help establish priorities for research and action.
- If these efforts are carried out, we predict a 5% reduction in fire losses annually until the Nation's losses have been halved in about 14 years.
- The recommendations emphasize prevention of fire through implementation of local programs.
Over its almost 40-year history, the data collected through NFIRS has resulted in remarkable improvements to fire safety, achieving the goal of cutting the nation's fire losses in half.
But there's so much more to learn; every fire has a story to tell.
It's vital to include every bit of that story in a central database that can be searched for information and statistics critical to preventing the next fire, helping occupants deal with a fire or helping the fire service to possess the proper tools for dealing with a fire.
Today more than ever, the NFIRS database is utilized by many agencies and researchers to explore opportunities for enhancing fire protection. Unfortunately, the search for data can often be frustrating because the forms are incomplete and contain bad data.
Perhaps the individual completing the form hasn't been properly trained or the task is assigned to the low man on the totem pole. Another reason often sited is change appears to happen painfully slowly and it's not worth the effort.
Regardless of the reason, the fire service and the people we're sworn to protect are the big losers. Proper and complete completion of the NFIRS form is vital to the mission and is the key to working for a fire-safe America.
As a member of the fire service, an important part of your job is to enhance fire safety, and this means ongoing improvement. Changes are made based on data. Do your part to make America more fire safe by stressing the importance of properly completing the NFIR report and spend the time to train the new guy how to do it. The data is vital for a safer tomorrow!