6 more data points that all fire chiefs should know
Glean key decision-making insights from data based on budget, CAD, incident types, geolocation, weather and policies
Read the first article in Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell's series on the importance of data in the fire service, "4 data points that all fire chiefs should know".
The core values of the fire service are to protect lives, property, and the environment through preparedness, prevention, public education and emergency response.
Fire service leaders want to deliver on these values while emphasizing quality services, efficiency, effectiveness and safety. To do that, they must surround themselves with information from varied and often nontraditional data sources.
In Part 1, we explored vital data categories and performance metrics related to community risks and operational resource deployment. Here, we’ll examine six data sources focused on system-level insights for decision-making. We’ll also consider the era of digitization and how fire departments can use data to position themselves for success.
Daily, fire chiefs face major challenges, such as increasing call volume, variations in services provided, increasing costs of service, often with declining financial resources, and personnel health, safety and wellness concerns. Budget proposals are often one of the most stressful tasks for fire chiefs. They are put in a position to make the fire department fit a defined budget rather than getting to prepare a budget to fit the goals and objectives of the fire department. This is why having the right data to tell the story is imperative to a successful outcome. This fact-based information exchange capability, along with relevant personal anecdotes, can be used to motivate decision-makers at budget time.
Historic data is also relevant in this category. Fire chiefs must know whether past budgets resulted in surplus, balance or deficit. They must also review previous budgets to determine the methods and procedures used in the funding and approval processes. It is often necessary to leverage relationships with the local union or volunteer fire association to move critical issues forward at budget time.
2. CAD Data
Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) data is a treasure trove of valuable data. Large datasets that include fire department apparatus response times for first-due units and response times for the total effective response force (ERF) provide valuable information for determining resource allocation, such as fire station location, type of apparatus deployed, and crew size/staffing levels.
For a constant data flow, CAD data can be transferred directly to fire departments using several pathways, including a periodic direct data transfer, transfer to the records management system (RMS), or via an application program interface (api). Fire chiefs should work to ensure that their CAD data are available for analysis to provide much more than summary reports about call types and response times.
3. Incident Data
Incident data has historically provided information categorized by broad emergency call types, including fire, emergency medical, technical rescue or hazmat. Many fire departments, CADs and RMS software define subtypes with more granular information in each of the broader categories. Capturing as much incident data as early as possible is necessary to better match the resources deployed to the risk event, thereby reducing vulnerability to negative outcomes.
New technologies, including bystander camera feeds and social media, are making it possible to transmit data to responding crews prior to arrival. This early information can be helpful in positioning units on scene, reducing time to assemble equipment for intervention, and understanding the best point of engagement with the incident to stop risk escalation.
Post-incident data, such as data ranging from photos of the mechanism of injury to fire origin and spread, are also valuable. Data obtained by incident command boards and by dispatchers during a call can provide valuable insights about responding crews’ operational performance on scene.
Knowing where incidents occur is a critical data point in any jurisdiction. Geolocation is the process of determining (or estimating) the geographic position of an incident. The geolocation of incidents contributes to both trend and risk calculations. Many fire departments use some form of geographic information system or GIS. GIS is a framework for analyzing geographic-based or spatial data typically presented on a map.
Ensuring that every incident that comes through the CAD is either automatically geocoded or flowing into a system that documents longitude and latitude is vital to understanding distribution of call type and volume by battalions, station first-due areas, smaller neighborhood response zones, and geopolitical boundaries. Visualization and reporting of incidents and emergency response performance by geographic location contributes significantly to the department’s story.
Weather events often contribute to higher emergency call volume. Inclement weather can also bring significant challenges during an on-scene emergency operation, like the wind-driven fires, floods or ice events that interfere with safe and effective on-scene crew performance. Capturing weather data, such as temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness at the time of each incident can offer valuable insights into the response and operational performance, particularly if things on scene go badly. Enriching incident and response data with weather data can provide an “a-ha” moment for responding crews, chiefs and local decision-makers.
6. Policies and Politics
All data do not take the form of numbers and statistics or even visualizations and graphs. Some data are qualitative and come from processes and relationships forged over time. For example, established policies for recruitment, hiring, training, promotions, terminations and retirements are relevant to fire department management. The ramifications of each of these policies are rich data sources that can be used to evaluate the processes themselves and plan for future adjustments.
Chiefs and other fire service leaders should also have good data and intelligence regarding elected officials and the political environment. Attending or reviewing recorded council meetings, vote results, and campaign promises are all rich data sources to monitor.
The data assets noted in the first nine data points can all be leveraged in this final one. Strategically using data from varied sources is a powerful way to tell the story of the fire department’s value, efficiency and effectiveness to decision-makers, stakeholders and the community.
The Era of Digitization: Most Successful and Well-Positioned Fire Departments Will Be Data-Driven
From data intake and preparation to perfecting data analytics models, one of the most important jobs in a fire department will soon be data-related. Fire department data experts (internal or external), including those responsible for data collection, management, protection, governance, analysis, and results translation into intelligence for decision-making, will become more valuable. In addition to the establishment of more automated data capture and the proliferation of data from all aspects of the fire service, firefighters and officers must become more data literate. Data, and all that goes with it, must become a major focus of internal training for all personnel. Soon, everything we do in the fire service will either be based on data or have a data component.
The ability to compile and analyze data from all these categories can be challenging. The International Public Safety Data Institute’s (IPSDI) work, including FireCARES, NFORS, and the new IPSDI Solutions Data Analytics and Consultation Services, are all based on these top 10 data categories, and the assembling of them, to assist fire service leaders to use data to make decisions and tell their story.