It is hoped that enhancements to the National Fire Incident Reporting System will result in even more departments using it.
It’s now easier than ever to report information regarding all of the critical life-saving services that your fire department provides and to document the necessary information to justify budget requests and enact needed change within your community. Recent and future updates to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, which is managed and maintained by the U.S. Fire Administration, will enhance the incident-reporting experience of many fire departments across the country and improve the ability to get incident data into and out of the system.
NFIRS is a model of a successful federal, state and local partnership, and provides vital information on the nature and causes of injuries, death and property loss resulting from fires and other emergencies. While participation in NFIRS is voluntary, more than 23,000 fire departments currently participate and report on an average of 20 million incidents and more than 1 million fires each year. Because 75% of our nation’s fire service participates, the NFIRS database currently constitutes the world’s largest national collection of annual incident information.
Much of what we now know about the nature, frequency, casualties and causes of fires has been derived from the three-plus decades of NFIRS data. The current version, NFIRS 5.0, has been in use for more than a decade and has proved to be a reliable and valuable tool for the fire service to understand and combat our national fire problem. However, improvements to the system have been necessary for some time now, in order to support the increasing need for the availability, timeliness and quality of NFIRS data.
Fortunately, resources were provided for NFIRS enhancements in the Data Entry Browser Interface, or DEBI, enables entirely Web-based data entry into NFIRS. The interface can be accessed via standard Web browsers (e.g., Internet Explorer and Firefox) using any computer — regardless of its operating system — that has an Internet connection. This eliminates the need to download, install and configure client software on the NFIRS user’s computer every time there is a change to the software (as is the case when using the original data-entry tool).Reauthorization Act of 2008. The first upgrade, rolled out in the summer of 2010, was the development of a Web version of the NFIRS data-entry tool. The
In addition, a couple of specific features make it simpler to report incident data. For example, the DEBI contains a Google-like search function that lets users easily locate and choose from lists of codes and other items, to help them more quickly and accurately document their incidents. Another DEBI feature saves previous incident personnel and apparatus entries so users do not have to re-enter this information for every new incident.
The DEBI is not for every department. For instance, fire departments that use computer-aided dispatch systems or those that need certain capabilities in addition to NFIRS incident reporting — such as the ability to track training and fire-prevention activities, or to inventory fire department equipment — should not use the interface. In such instances, use of approved third-party commercial software as an alternative for entering NFIRS data is still an option. Also, departments that keep local databases pertaining to incident reporting should not use the DEBI.
But if yours is a department with few resources, limited technical knowledge, or a slow Internet connection that makes downloading large software updates painful, the DEBI was designed specifically for you. Regardless of the amount of resources and technical knowledge, however, the USFA encourages all fire departments to take a look at DEBI. And if your fire department currently is not participating in NFIRS, the user-friendly DEBI is the perfect place to start. In fact, the USFA hopes that its ease of use will be the reason that you decide to start participating.
In order to use the DEBI, your fire department must have completed the user registration at www.nfirs.fema.gov/users/. Also, your NFIRS state program manager must have granted the necessary permissions and activated your account. If your department does not already have an active NFIRS user account, contact your NFIRS state program manager. (If you’re not sure who your program manager is, click on the “State Contacts” tab at www.nfirs.fema.gov/.) As stated previously, using DEBI requires Internet connectivity, an Internet browser version compatible with the application, and a computer that meets necessary system requirements. More information can be found at www.nfirs.fema.gov/webtools/.
SORT it Out
In addition to the DEBI, the Summary Output Reports Tool, or SORT, is the Web tool currently available that will most easily retrieve incident data out of NFIRS using a variety of predefined reports, with very limited data filters. Like the DEBI, the SORT can be accessed via a standard Web browser and also requires no installation or updating. While the SORT has been in place for several years and is not officially part of the NFIRS enhancements project, it recently has been improved to let users select more specific criteria than ever before when using the predefined reports. But the SORT still does not allow users to perform ad-hoc queries on all of their incident data. And, for those fire departments that are interested in conducting comparison analyses, the SORT only allows users to look at their department’s data.
However, the USFA plans to add these missing capabilities in a future NFIRS enhancement that currently is being developed. It involves a flexible data warehouse with comprehensive data-mining capabilities that will be available for use by every fire department from coast to coast. Like the SORT, this future enhancement will allow fire departments to access their NFIRS data, but with significantly increased functionality to better suit individual department needs.
In addition, because the data has been transformed into a data warehouse format, the speed of reporting will be increased greatly. To summarize, fire departments will be able to access all or any portion of their NFIRS data faster, analyze it from a nearly unending number of different perspectives, and summarize it into useful information in a manner that previously has been beyond their grasp.
Specifically, the data warehouse and mining enhancement still will contain predefined reports similar to those found in the SORT. But it also will give users greater ability to modify copies of the predefined reports, and allow them to set up ad-hoc queries in order to create specific, customized reports. In addition, for any report that is generated from the data warehouse, a user will be able to turn the data into a graphical representation in a variety of formats, e.g., tables and pie charts. They also will be able to save the data in other offline software, such as Excel.
Finally, all reports will include the ability to create cross-tables interactively by clicking and dragging. All of these new features and functions will give fire departments across the nation a greater ability to describe the fire problem within their communities, justify budget requests, support code refinements, measure the impact of public fire-education programs, plan for future fire-protection needs, and prioritize allocation of resources.
There is another noteworthy feature of the future data warehouse and mining enhancement that many have been requesting: not only will users be able to access all of their own data, but they also will be able to look at other publicly released incident data as well (with the exception of personally identifiable information). In addition, users will be able to conduct local, state and national queries. This will allow fire departments to conduct comparison analyses at the local level, or to get a picture of what is going on at the state and national levels.
As additional funding becomes available, the USFA is hoping to develop and implement other NFIRS enhancements. Some of these include a GIS query capability, which will permit users to analyze incident data using maps, as well as “dashboard” reports that will give fire departments at-a-glance overviews of the current status of what is happening in their communities.
Ed: More information on NFIRS and all of the system enhancements that are free of cost to all users can be found at www.usfa.dhs.gov/fireservice/nfirs/index.shtm. For further assistance, contact USFA’s NFIRS Support Center at 888-382-3827.
Meredith Lawler is a fire program specialist with the National Fire Data Center.