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  • How Fire and Battalion Chiefs Can Get the Data They Need for Funding, Staffing, and Safety

    Without metrics that show governing bodies what staff numbers are optimal for specific stations and times of day, chiefs will not have the people they need to maintain readiness, and effectively and efficiently deploy into the community. Every fire chief should follow the best practices described here.

    How Fire and Battalion Chiefs Can Get the Data They Need for Funding, Staffing, and Safety

    Almost every fire department relies on some sort of software to collect data and file with the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), but fewer have robust, customizable analytics and reporting as part of their software package. This is a problem. Whether you are a large, established agency or a volunteer department, access to the data you need for your fire department, along with actionable analytics and reporting, are the keys to gaining support and funding.

    Why Fire Departments Need Accessible, Available, Quality Data

    First and foremost, a lack of quality data and reporting makes it difficult for chiefs to ensure the department has proper staffing. Without metrics that show governing bodies what staff numbers are optimal for specific stations and times of day, chiefs will not have the people they need to maintain readiness, and effectively and efficiently deploy into the community.

    Similarly, it becomes challenging to maintain industry standards without the ability to analyze data and trends. For example, one way each department proves the safety and soundness of its operations is by meeting the effective response time standard. Chiefs who cannot track and analyze data against this and other industry standards are flying blind when trying to optimize performance and minimize safety risks.

    It is also nearly impossible to get grant funding if the department cannot demonstrate it is meeting (and exceeding) industry standards. Chiefs need the ability to slice and dice the department’s unique data sets into the variety of formats and reports required by grantors. Without flexible reports that prove performance levels are high, it’s an uphill battle to get more funding for staff, trucks, equipment, and more.

    Having robust reporting and analytics can make a big difference for fire departments and help solve some of the biggest challenges that chiefs face. The trick is getting the right technology for your department.

    Not All Software Is Created Equal

    While the industry is lightyears beyond the days of using paper incident reports, many fire software systems have capability limitations that make it painful and slow to pull data. Again, almost all systems collect NFIRS data, as well as some type of occupancy, inspection, and hydrant data; but the weaknesses lie in the reporting tools.

    Chiefs have access to large volumes of data, yet most fire software cannot generate usable, actionable reports beyond the pre-formatted options designed for NFIRS. Additionally, many systems do not allow users to manipulate the information — such as with grouping, sorting, and filtering — to help departments make operational decisions and report to governing bodies. The software systems are “fixed” and inflexible, instead of offering the ability to mold the reporting to meet the specific needs of the department. In contrast, a best-in-class fire records management system (RMS) pulls data from multiple sources, integrating information from inspectors, EMS, incident reporting, and more. Users can then tailor how to analyze and report on the data.

    “Fire departments need robust analytics and the ability to quickly add and change filters and data points to accommodate the custom needs of each jurisdiction,” says Jason Howard, custom reporting analyst for ZOLL Data Systems and 22-year battalion chief, firefighter, paramedic. “For example, the best software not only tracks occupancy data, but generates reports about how many occupancies in the district have a specific hazard, whether it is chemical storage, a high occupancy rate, or a hospital or nursing home. Departments can then tie those occupancy numbers and hazards to the NFIRS reports and see how many times — and at what times of day — a department responded to calls in those areas. That information is critical when making decisions about staffing.”

    In short, fire departments need to do more than collect basic data and file canned reports with NFIRS. A fire RMS should offer robust, flexible reporting and analytics tools that help the department access actionable information.

    Best Practices for Analyzing and Reporting on Fire Operations Data

    Regardless of your department’s level of sophistication with data, every chief should follow these best practices:

    • Decide what data you want to get out of the system when configuring the software. NFIRS standards will be built in, but what else do you need? Take the time to pick and choose what data should be collected and analyzed, so standard reports only include information relevant to your fire department and minimal data manipulation is needed after pulling a report.
    • Train staff so they understand what you’re trying to do with the data. Not only that, but connect data to how it will help improve the staff’s ability to do their jobs. If everyone understands the mission and importance of the information, the data input will be high quality, as will the reports that stem from it.
    • Use data to establish your department’s current performance baselines. For example, what is your average shoot time over six months? Is it better or worse during the day or night? What about between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. when crews are coming out of their bunks? Having these baselines is foundational to making effective staffing and deployment decisions.
    • Create custom reports to track what is important to your fire department. With the right software system, you can build virtually anything, such as a custom report that analyzes data by certain geographic quadrants instead of by station. This will help the department gain funding and community support.
    • Work with a software vendor that provides excellent customer support. Responsive customer support ensures the department can get the configurations and reports it needs, regardless of the staff's level of expertise and experience in data analytics.
    Prove Your Point With Data

    What fire departments used to know about the makeup of their districts has changed dramatically over the last five years. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent rise of remote work have shifted where people are concentrated, district population sizes, and demand levels. This shift emphasizes the constant need for fire departments to assess and reassess data points as conditions change.

    A robust fire RMS like ZOLL® Fire Reports provides the features, capabilities, and data availability necessary for a fire chief to create actionable reports that target the metrics that matter most to their department. With the flexibility to report in diverse ways and showcase specific data related to industry standards, performance levels, safety measures, staffing and more, a chief has the power to tell a compelling story with numbers. Ultimately, that is what helps drive safety improvements and secure the funding needed to address the department’s most pressing challenges so it can deliver more to the community.


    Read More About How Fire Chiefs Can Improve Financial Performance:

    How Collecting Payment for Inspections is Changing the Fire Industry

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