Author(s): James Pauley. Published on October 30, 2014.

“IF WE HAVE DATA, let’s look at the data. If all we have is opinions, let’s go with mine.”

Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape, is credited for this famous phrase. Data is everywhere, but analysis of it is key to making better decisions, focusing resources, and creating a plan of attack for a particular problem.

Our problem is fire. Over the last century, NFPA has learned that data plays a key role in helping fire departments, governments, and NFPA itself make better use of resources. It’s the data that reveals why NFPA focuses on the issues it does. Smoking, for instance, has been the leading cause of home fire deaths for decades, with the data showing that 66 percent of the smoking material fire fatalities are from fires originating in upholstered furniture or mattresses/bedding. Data also shows that cooking is the leading cause of home fires (43 percent) and home fire injuries (38 percent), and that sprinklers reduce the fire death rate per 1,000 homes by about 80 percent and the average property loss per home by about 70 percent.

Analysis of this data drove our focus on fire safe cigarettes and our Fire Sprinkler Initiative for one- and two-family homes. It also supported our smoke alarm awareness campaigns, as well as research into cooking technology to help reduce cooking fires.

NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division does an excellent job of gathering and analyzing data around the fire problem. We are working on more effective ways for our technical committees to interact with our data analysis teams, our extensive resource library, and the Fire Protection Research Foundation so that data continues to play a key role in our decision-making. We are working to improve our data collection and how we can utilize the latest technology to make data gathering easier and more accurate.

On that point, I want to address two important stakeholder groups, starting with the fire service. We recognize how important data can be in how you conduct your work; the needs assessments we completed for the U.S. fire service, for example, served as a basis for identifying the gaps between resources at hand and resources required to meet the need. NFPA also conducts extensive analyses of firefighter fatalities and injuries, and we make sure our technical committees have this information to make better decisions in the standards process.

But we’re also aware that much of the burden falls to you to provide the data from fire incidents, and that this can be a cumbersome and time-consuming task. I want to emphasize that your work to provide this data is critical, both to the public and to the fire service itself. The data isn’t ignored; it is analyzed, utilized, and reported back out for useful decision-making and action.

The other group I want to address is our international colleagues, who often tell me they have no effective means to gather data. I implore you to take on the task of establishing effective data-collection systems. Only when you have good data to determine your direction and approach can you effectively attack the fire problem.

NFPA will continue to provide research, analysis, and information that uses data to help solve our fire problems. As Peter Drucker once said, “What gets measured gets managed.”