NFIRS: Why You Should Report Your Data

Although reporting your incident data may not be compulsory, the advantages far outweigh any downside. I’d like to begin by clearing up some misconceptions.

Misconception #1: It’s a requirement.

Yes or No; it depends where you live. Reporting to NFIRS is not a requirement from the national level. Some states directly require departments to submit data in order to recieve funding. My 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 2013 and measure from 2002–2012. (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 48.7% 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: the leading cause for fatal residential building fires is smoking-related (15%). Keep in mind that 12.1% 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.

The National Fire Information Reporting System (NFIRS)

The National Commission of Fire Prevention and Control established NFIRS in 1973 following the release of a groundbreaking report, called America Burning. NFIRS was established by the National Fire Data Center a part of the United States Fire Administration (USFA), which is a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

When NFIRS was first established, it was based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 901 Uniform Coding for Fire Protection 1976 version. 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.

This leads me to the point of this article. 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 they only want to submit the fire reports and not the EMS reports. 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.

There is much more to cover on this and we will be having a Virtual Thursday Webinar on NFIRS Coding on February 5th 2015 with Tom Louis and Tommy Batson. If you miss it you will be able to find the recording here