Better Data Collection and Analysis for the Fire Service: Reader “Mailbag”

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled, Data Matters for Fire Departments Across the U.S. That post received many comments from fire service leaders across the U.S. Below is the “Comment Feed” as posted on

Brent Faulkner

LinkedIn by those “thought leaders.”

Another great article that is all about Community Risk Reduction. That is the overall goal and accurate and meaningful metrics are the backbone to that process. Keep up the great work! Brent Faulkner, CEO at MBIntel, Inc.–Virtual CRR

Dr. Denis Onieal

Excellent article! In the world of “big data”, fire departments can ill-afford the consequences of inaccurate or worse, no data. NFIRS is best used at the local level. Budgets, equipment and personnel resources are determined by city councils and business administrators. War stories won’t cut it anymore-data rules today! Kudos to Chief Avsec for his powerful insights.–Dr. Denis Onieal, Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator

Charles Werner

Absolutely! In this day and time, data has become a requirement for validation of requesting new resources/programs as well as maintaining current programs. This is also starting to become a major requirement for fire department accreditation! Keep the great articles coming!–Charles Werner, Public Safety Advisor and Chair at National Council on Public Safety UAS.

Robert Avsec: Fire service and LinkedIn colleagues! You might also find of interest an article that I wrote back in 2014 for publication in the Annals of Emergency Dispatch and Response, “Why Evidence-Based Decision-Making Matters,”

Another well written article, Chief! I had an eye-opening experience while attending the NFIRS Program Manager course at the National Fire Academy. Mr. Long of the US Fire Administration handed out folders containing NFIRS data for each department. One individual received an empty folder, and when they asked about it they were informed that their department had not reported in 5 years.

I believe the situation was rectified before we left Emmitsburg, but it was intriguing that a department thought they were reporting when, in fact, they were not. How often does this happen?

Will Porter

On another note, one of the first books I read when I started my career in the fire service was The Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service by Chief Brunacini. I learned quite a bit from that book. One of Chief Brunacini’s opportunity categories really stuck out to me. “We must continually improve our customer service performance.”

Without quality data how can we measure our baseline performance? How can we improve our performance if we don’t have an accurate baseline? The first step in utilizing a data-driven approach is ensuring you are obtaining quality data. After that we can focus on turning data into information, and information into insight.–Will Potter, Firefighter and Records Management Administrator, Carrboro (NC) Fire Rescue.

Dr. Burton Clark

Great article. One of the first IT terms I learned in 1966 in my high school computer class was GIGO (garbage in garbage out). When I first joined the fire service we reported the number of feet of hose used and the number ladders raised.

We are getting better. In 2014 the fire service reports 11.6 B in $ fire loss; how does that compare to what the insurance industry paid out in fire loss for the same year? Maybe we should get our fire $ loss date from the people who write the check not the OIC on the first due fire company.–Dr. Burton Clark, Researcher, Author, and Instructor.

Robert Avsec: Good point about the fire loss data, Burt! I know I was never taught how to estimate the structural fire loss and the content loss, yet as the OIC I was responsible for entering that data on the fire report.

Thanks to all of those fire service leaders for sharing their insights and collected wisdom. So, I’ll repeat the concluding question from the original post: How is your department doing when it comes to reporting complete and accurate fire data to the U.S. Fire Administration through NFIRS (National Fire Incident Reporting System)?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,