Author(s): Kathleen Almand. Published on July 1, 2015.

How can we use our resources to strengthen our data connections with the fire service?

That’s an important question being explored by both the Fire Protection Research Foundation and NFPA’s Fire Analysis and Research Division. We are just beginning to understand how we can work with the fire service community to use data of all sorts to help fulfill our mission, and to help them achieve theirs.
One important step is the Foundation’s “smart-firefighting” project, sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which has helped introduce NFPA to the emerging world of cyber physical systems. A report on the project, offers a practical roadmap for using data to enhance firefighter safety and operations.

Additionally, the Fire Analysis and Research Division has invited input from the fire service on how we can make the data we collect more useful to our fire service constituents. We’ve made several big changes as a result, including the development of an electronic survey tool and changes to how we present our results. The annual fire experience survey is a cornerstone of NFPA’s fire loss data collection and analysis program, so these changes represent a path for us to learn and do more.

There are a number of exciting developments on the horizon. We’re working on new methods that will make it easier for us to query and analyze the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) data that we receive annually from the U.S. Fire Administration, and we’re working with the National Association of State Fire Marshals to envision the next version of NFIRS. A project is underway to evaluate the consistency of the incident-type codes chosen with the incident narratives from three large urban fire departments; the findings will help us make recommendations on how these and other pieces of data could be made more intuitive for data providers.

We’ve also initiated a collaboration with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), offering our expertise to develop national estimates from collected fire department data to assist in the development of the National Fire Operations Reporting System, a new data collection system related to fire operations. At the request of the IAFF and several urban fire departments, we are exploring how we can better estimate the economic benefits that fire department operations bring to communities through fire interventions.

Individual communities are thinking about how to use data more effectively, too. NFPA was recently approached by the Los Angeles Fire Department to help it find ways to use the data it collects to better inform its community risk-reduction programs; better data on high-risk locations can improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of those programs. The Fire Analysis and Research Division has also been invited to work with the Palo Alto (California) Fire Department and other emergency services in the area to analyze incident data related to school safety, and to help the community develop a risk-informed coordinated response.

All of this activity represents key challenges for us as we attempt to find, gather, analyze, and apply the right data in the right ways. We’re already devising solutions designed to better use data to address the nation’s fire loss problem. More challenges are coming our way, and we look forward to taking them on.

KATHLEEN H. ALMAND, P.E., FSFPE, is vice president, Research, at NFPA.