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National Fire Data Week: Getting ‘NERIS-ready’

A Data Dream Team is working to build and implement a robust data management system for the fire service

“How do the cops get all the money?” If you’re like me, you’ve asked this question at least once in your career.

I can’t count the number of people who have asked me similar “how” questions over the years: “How did you get $12 million to purchase apparatus?” “How did you hire 400 firefighters?” “How did you sell that to your elected officials?” In every case, the predominant answer is that I used data to make the case.

Being honest, NFIRS was all but useless in the data I needed for most of these things. We didn’t have any magic data systems or software; we just had lots of data that had to be aggregated from different places and then analyzed to determine how we could justify our needs.

Data is king

You’ve heard it before – data is king. If you’re not collecting and analyzing data from your response area, you’re missing out on a significant way to maximize your organization, paid or volunteer. Whether it’s response time analysis, deployment concerns, apparatus and gear compliance, insurance ratings, recruitment/retention, uniforms or any number of other budget justifications, ACCURATE data is your best bet to convince your commissions and/or elected officials that you really NEED the funding you‘re asking for.

One day soon, I am confident that NERIS will be able to help you with many of those concerns. It will be incumbent upon all of us to test the system when we’re given the opportunity. You’ve probably heard before that that data provided will only be as good as the data entered – “garbage in, garbage out.” And if you don’t enter any data, well, then you’ll get nothing in return.

NERIS on the horizon

Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell has made improvement of data collection and analysis one of her primary goals as U.S. fire administrator. She heard loud and clear from everyone about the problems with NFIRS, and she had firsthand experience seeing that its time had come and gone. So, she put together a Data Dream Team to solve the problem, bringing in Steve Kerber, PhD, vice president and executive director of UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), among others, to build and implement a robust data management system for the fire service. Additionally, FSRI hired Chief Tom Jenkins, past president of the IAFC, to be the program manager for the NERIS implementation.

Implementation of NERIS represents a crossroads moment in the fire service, the opportunity to turn the page on clunky functionality and poor data. NERIS is currently being beta-tested in several fire departments around the country. This is no easy task, involving both the analysis of existing NFIRS data and how it can be joined with the individual analysis from department computer-aided dispatch and other systems.

National Fire Data Week

This week, the USFA hosts the annual National Fire Data Week, this year focused on emphasizing the importance and value of accurate data reporting and analysis by showcasing real-world examples of how NERIS will transform fire response. Key themes include:

  • The benefits of NERIS for fire departments, firefighters and communities.
  • How NERIS improves data quality, operational effectiveness and access to critical information.
  • The importance of being NERIS-ready and steps to prepare for its implementation.

FSRI will specifically point fire departments to a survey where they can sign up to be early adopters.

Having the opportunity to participate in the design commentary as this crossroad approaches is a remarkable opportunity for our industry. Make sure you’re doing your part. And please, resist the urge to pencil whip your grant applications and other data-supported paperwork. Remember, we will only get out of it what we put into it!

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Chief Marc S. Bashoor joined the Lexipol team in 2018, serving as the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief executive editor and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board. With 40 years in emergency services, Chief Bashoor previously served as public safety director in Highlands County, Florida; as chief of the Prince George’s County (Maryland) Fire/EMS Department; and as emergency manager in Mineral County, West Virginia. Chief Bashoor assisted the NFPA with fire service missions in Brazil and China, and has presented at many industry conferences and trade shows. He has contributed to several industry publications. He is a National Pro-board certified Fire Officer IV, Fire Instructor III and Fire Instructor. Connect with Chief Bashoor at on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Do you have a leadership tip or incident you’d like to discuss? Send the chief an email.