Although reporting your incident data may not be compulsory, the advantages far outweigh any downside. Let’s begin by clearing up some common misconceptions.
Misconception #1: It’s a requirement.
Yes and no. It depends where you live. Reporting to NFIRS (National Fire Incident Reporting System) is not a requirement at the national level. Some states directly require departments to submit data in order to receive funding. Our hat is off to those states that recognize the importance of this data. Reporting to NFIRS is voluntary for agencies not required to report to another authority. However, if you are thinking of applying for a federal grant and you have not reported to NFIRS, your grant application will not even be considered.
Misconception #2: It’s a black hole.
Naysayers about NFIRS will say data goes in, but nothing comes back out. Although it can be difficult to get the data you want from NFIRS, it is certainly not impossible. Like most federal programs today, NFIRS is underfunded and shorthanded. The most recent statistics available were released in 2017 and measure from 2008–2017. (Here is the link to the data center.)
Misconception #3: It’s paperwork.
No, it’s data, and data can be a powerful tool. Did you know that 51.6% of residential building fires were caused by cooking-related incidents? This stat was compiled as a result of data entered into NFIRS by departments just like yours.
Another stat: one of the leading causes for fatal residential building fires is smoking-related (11.8%). Keep in mind that 13.6% of residential fires are reported as still being under investigation. Additionally, the people who hold the purse strings for your organization are usually the ones making decisions that affect everyone in the department. They make decisions by analyzing data. The better and more accurate the data that you enter for your department, the better decisions they can make. Read this blog to learn more about how data is helping fight wildfires throughout the country.
By contributing to NFIRS, fire departments help the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) to:
- Analyze the severity and reach of the nation’s fire problem.
- Use NFIRS information to develop national public education campaigns.
- Make recommendations for national codes and standards.
- Determine consumer product failures.
- Identify the focus for research efforts.
- Support federal legislation.
The National Fire Information Reporting System (NFIRS)
The beginnings of NFIRS was the publication of a report called America Burning. This report was produced by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control in 1973 and provided the catalyst for Public Law 93-498, the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 which, in turn, led to the establishment of the USFA and the National Fire Academy (NFA). NFIRS was established by the National Fire Data Center, a part of the USFA, which is a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The America Burning transmittal letter and introduction were so critical to the creation of NFIRS because it included a number of very forward-thinking statements about data being a vehicle for change:
- The Commission worked in a field where statistics were meager.
- Develop a comprehensive national fire data system, which will help establish priorities for research and action.
- If these efforts are carried out, we predict a 5% reduction in fire losses annually until the Nation’s losses have been halved in about 14 years.
- The recommendations emphasize prevention of fire through implementation of local programs.
If you want to learn more, check out this article from Firehouse on how America Burning impacted the U.S. Fire Administration.
When NFIRS was first established, it was based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 901 Uniform Coding for Fire Protection 1976 version. In 1977, only five states regularly reported data to the National Fire Data Center. Since then, participation has increased to 42 states and over 14,000 fire departments. It is estimated that 44% of all fires to which fire departments respond are captured in NFIRS. In January 1999, NFIRS Version 5.0 was released and expands the collection of data beyond fires to include a full range of fire department activity to make it a true, all-incident reporting system.
Every year, around January, we get questions from customers about NFIRS reporting. They have stored their incident reports for the entire year and now want to submit them to NFIRS. The problem is that they only want to submit the fire reports and not the EMS reports. However, NFIRS wants to collect all of the incidents that a department responded to, not just the fire incidents. If you actually responded to the EMS incident with personnel and apparatus, then fill out the NFIRS report and submit it. This has two critical advantages:
- You are reporting the same way other departments report, so you are on a level playing field when it comes to reviewing grant applications.
- Your run count will reflect the total number of incidents your department has responded to. By reporting just the few fire calls you did last year, you are missing most of your department’s other calls.
When it comes to grants, departments with a greater call volume (all types) are eligible to receive more money than those who only run just a few. Remember NFIRS is intended to be an all-incident reporting system. To learn more about grant funding, check out our white paper “How to Get More Grand Funding”.
If you would like to learn more on this topic, we’ve created a playlist of all our NFIRS tutorials here.
Emergency Reporting also provides a NFIRS-only package that may be a good option for your department if you’re looking to deliver data to NFIRS quickly and efficiently.