Let me get this fact out of the way: I love sports. In fact, there aren't many sports that I don't follow. And, when there is a chance of a record being broken or a milestone achieved, it certainly has my attention.
Why is it that we cheer on horses who have a chance to win the Triple Crown? Why is it we enjoy a pitcher throwing a perfect game, a hockey player completing the hat trick or a golfer winning all four majors?
It's because there are levels of excellence that spectators and fans like to see people and teams accomplish.
More importantly, athletes in any sport understand what they must do to be successful. Whether it is a collegiate player striving to advance to professional sports or a professional athlete aiming to win awards and eventually elected to their respective hall of fame, they know the statistics and the data they must compete against and excel above. In fact, their professions are driven by data and wins.
Likewise, firefighters are often compared to professional athletes due to the physical demands of the profession. We have training camps, strength and conditioning expectations, we function in a team environment depending on each other for the success of accomplishing goals just like team sports. We have our own legends and all-stars (e.g., Brunacini, Brannigan, Eisner, Dunn, Salka, Lasky, Goldfeder and way too many more to mention), as well as our rising stars in who will make their marks on the fire and emergency services profession.
Statistical data questions those in the fire service should be able to answer
Unfortunately, that is where our comparison seems to stall. As I travel around the country and present “The Fire Prevention Paradox: Is our Culture Killing us,” I like asking emergency responders the question, “How well do we know our data?”
Periodically, I will ask about the value of property lost, property saved and inquire about fire codes, including sprinklers. Unfortunately, the answers I get are typically silence, stares and questionable guesses. Don't rush to assumptions that it's just rookie firefighters. It's everyone from the fire chief, chief officers, company officers, firefighters, fire marshals and even public educators.
Here are some statistical data questions that those in the fire and emergency services should consider be able to answer:
1. What do we know about ourselves and the positions we serve in?
As fire service professionals, we should understand the certifications, training requirements/hours; as well as the knowledge, skills and abilities that we should possess to perform in our current positions.
Further, we should know what is needed to achieve the next level of certification, designation, and/or promotion. Being able to articulate these requirements demonstrates that we are committed to the profession we serve in.
2. What do we know about our communities and those we are sworn to serve?
Serving a community is a great honor and one that should never be taken lightly. Just as importantly as knowing ourselves and our position, it is imperative to understand the community we serve. We should be able to identify:
- The size of the population and how it may vary depending on the time of day.
- Who is in our community in terms of demographics (age, ethnicity, languages spoken, etc.).
- What risks we may face:
- Water supply and flows.
Knowing this information prepares us in planning personnel, apparatus and equipment needs; station locations; and programs to successfully conduct outreach and education.
3. What do we know about the profession we serve in on local, regional, state and national levels?
As professionals, we should know the results of the risks that we, and that our community experiences. This includes understanding the types of incidents we respond to and any trends associated with when these calls may occur (e.g., fires in the colder season, motor vehicle crashes in busier times of day), as well as the rate of occurrences and causes. Having this information helps influence decision-making and program development to reduce risks and change behaviors.
While changing external risks in our communities can affect safety for our citizens and for us firefighters, we also should know the rates for internal factors, which includes being familiar with:
- Firefighter injury and line of duty death figures.
- Their causes.
- What programs are available for emerging topics for mental health and firefighter cancer.
- How to access these resources.
It is incumbent upon us to utilize the information and data to improve our performance, effectiveness and our safety. There is plenty of data coming out from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Underwriter's Laboratory that presents new findings in rapid fire growth, patterns and flow path. There are programs available for roadway safety, physical fitness and other risks we face internally, and there is evidence in the data to show that many of the programs have worked.
4. What is our relevance as firefighters to our communities?
Unfortunately, many in the fire service suggest that our value to our communities is obvious, non-negotiable and invaluable; it’s to protect life and property. But how do we qualify and/or quantify those answers? It goes beyond just saying what your ISO rating is. It means being able to articulate a dollar amount of what the ISO rating means to the insured, and what it would be if it increases or decreases.
Value statistics include:
- Commercial occupancies saved or lost in fires.
- Sales tax revenue for these businesses.
- How many jobs are affected.
- What does the loss of a business for a month, year or even forever means to the community in terms of revenue.
It’s the same for residential property in regards to value if there is a loss. That means somebody is now re-located out of the community and spending their money elsewhere.
While it's easier to articulate the number of emergency responses, training hours, fire deaths and property loss we experience, it takes time, effort and research to demonstrate the value in property saved. It takes time because it’s worth it, and our relevance and presence depend on it.
That certainly doesn’t suggest that every firefighter should be a data analyst, but it’s important to be thinking about how we market and sell ourselves beyond just an assumption that we are relevant because of what the public perception of our role is.
Know your fire service data
Fire service professionals have a menu of blogs, news sites and newsletters that provide information on training, best practices and breaking news. Associations such as the IAFC, NVFC, IAFF and many local and state chief associations all have newsletters filled with information on best practices, current trends and other stories of interest.
A close friend and colleague of mine who recently lost his battle with cancer once said, “It's your union, pay your dues, get involved.” To that extent, this is your fire service, pay your dues, know your data and get involved.