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Smart Firefighting: Virtual Chat on Data in the Fire Service

Data swirls around emergency operations, whether emergency service, fiscal expenditures, or personnel accountability. Discussions on data often come up when fire service leaders need to "prove" what our gut feelings tell us about our operational capability. But how do we capture this data, analyze it without bias, and then use it to make meaningful decisions?

On June 11, www.SmartFireFighting.com convened a virtual "Data in the Fire Service" roundtable discussion between fellow industry leaders representing the tech industry and the fire service. In this discussion, we answered a range of essential data questions. Below are six of these questions and a short collective answer synopsis.


How can data impact operations in the fire service?

We always need to evaluate data and find ways to make it useful. Daily, we repurpose raw data to provide better leadership decisions, better information to constituents, and better data to policymakers. Data can help us ensure that decisions are made based on quality information, not just gut feelings.

Are fire departments Information System organizations?

Many fire departments rely overly on their IT departments and expect them to solve their technology problems. While fire departments want to be considered information systems, we must ensure that the right pieces are in place. We need a quality foundation of prior knowledge, proper infrastructure to support the new systems, and the excellent support to incorporate new data into our decision-making process.


Are we data-driven or knowledge-driven organizations?

Data is all around us. All the data is excellent, but our concern is that we are not sure if we can rely on the data, not sure how to interpret it, and not sure of what we want to get out of the data. That is why partnerships with companies such as First Due and NetAge are critical to ensure proper data migration, management, and integration.

Do we recruit the right people in the fire service, and do we bring in enough digital literacy?

Not enough talent is drawn into the fire service around data science at a young age. As a career path, data science should no longer be taboo and, instead, become a deliberate decision for our youth. We don't want the entire fire service to be full of data scientists, but we need more programs and incentives to draw youth into this niche within the fire service.

How can smart home and smart city data creation support fire ground operations?

The new shiny objects are fun to look at but this technology needs to be part of the strategic plans and serve a purpose. Vendors need to understand how their new widgets or data can bring us value and optimize our fireground operations.

How can we leverage the community to create valuable data?

Fire departments can start very small and utilize simple two-way communication surveys from companies like Virtual CRR. This helps us gather important data around issues like COVID-19 reporting or other relevant information that helps empower our fire operations.

Throughout the discussion, two consistent themes emerged. These focused on getting "buy-in" from the end-users and the importance of ensuring strong collaboration with the fire service industries standardization organizations (NFPA, etc.) throughout the process.

As a fire chief, I know the quickest way for a new technology to fail its "onboarding" into an organizational culture is if it is hard to use, isn't supported by the correct hardware/software, and if leadership doesn't consistently demonstrate its usefulness.

If the technology or new data makes our jobs harder to do, then why would we adopt it? If technology doesn't work correctly every time, why should we rely on it? If leadership doesn't demonstrate its value, how do we know its valuable?

While a lot of the new technology and data companies have the best intentions, solution providers must have a dialogue with end-users to ensure their technology integrates with our operations. The fire service doesn't need every data point measurable at any given time. (Frankly, not every data point even needs to be measured.) Data instead must be provided to the right person, at the right time, in the right format, with the right information, and in the right amount. Doing otherwise creates "information overload" and slows operations.

The topic of "what data" to focus on is tricky because it must also tie into how the standardizing organizations drive future standards around data. It is critical that standardizing bodies work to create a consistent playing field for the incoming data and ensure standards are meant to improve our fireground operations.

You can view the entire discussion here or listen as a podcast here.


Dan Munsey, CFO is the Fire Chief, San Bernardino County Fire District and President, Operations Section, California Fire Chiefs Association. He also serves as Chairperson, Data, Communication and IoT, for the IAFC Technology Council. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter (@SBCFireChief).

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