Author(s): James Pauley. Published on May 1, 2017.

Tackling the Data Problem


A common topic at fire service gatherings I’ve been to recently is data. Or, more accurately put, how fire departments across the country struggle with the growing demand for information and can sometimes have difficulty seeing the value of gathering and providing data for organizations that rely on it.

But the fire data landscape has been changing for some time as this information has become increasingly important. For years, the National Fire Incident Reporting System was our primary source of fire information, but it told only part of the story of fire service activities. At the same time, more and more fire service agencies began utilizing data not only for compliance but also to manage their organizations and their emergency operations. This has prompted a lot of discussion about how to leverage effective data practices to further benefit the fire service.


To better understand the evolving data landscape, NFPA recently fielded a national fire data survey that asked key questions of the fire service about how it collects, manages, and utilizes data. The study concluded that the fire data ecosystem is inconsistent, underutilized, and incomplete, but that it is also viewed as critical, important, and essential.

This information is driving our work on an important new data project. Last fall, NFPA received a $1.5 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, $1.2 million of which was earmarked to develop a new National Fire Data System. The grant, along with a significant amount of our own resources, will help us establish the foundation for developing a modern, flexible, and scalable means for capturing and processing data from fire departments across the country, utilizing their existing record management systems. That information will ultimately assist the fire service with operational and community-risk decision making. We have established an executive advisory board and a technical working group of fire service stakeholders to help us create this new data system, and in the coming weeks we will announce who we will partner with to build this new prototype system over the next year.

Today’s data tools and technology are much different than those of just a few years ago, and utilizing these modern approaches will be a key way to benefit the diverse world of the fire service. It’s a daunting challenge, but we are excited to work with the fire service to meet it.