Augmenting NFIRS 5 Data with CAD

NFIRS 5 data alone provides a rich source of incident analysis data. But NFIRS 5 data alone may not give you the full picture.

NFIRS 5 permits fire departments to report Alarm Time as either the time a caller reports an emergency or the time the fire department itself received notification from a dispatch center. This can lead to false comparisons between fire departments.

Early this year the Boston Globe published a comparison of fire department response times. The best performing fire departments were highlighted as having the shortest response times. But since the study was based on NFIRS 5 data alone. The comparisons made may not have been valid.

Consider the typical example of a 911 call being answered at a Police PSAP (Public Safety Access Point) being forwarded to a regional CAD system where the dispatch is then communicated to the fire department. Under NFIRS 5 reporting requirements the fire department may report the time of alarm as the time the phone activated at the PSAP, the time the call was relayed to the CAD center or the time the CAD center transmitted the dispatch to the fire department. This lack of a standardized time of alarm means measurement of response time minutes may differ as much as 1 to 3 minutes even for the same alarm.

When analyzing fire department operations the most effective approach is to attempt to reconstruct the "customers" experience. If the PSAP time of call is available, use it. Otherwise don't settle for less than the time the call was received at CAD. The earlier the timestamp the more effective the analysis. Measurements should include as many steps of the operation as possible.

It's not unusual for regional CAD centers to receive calls via both 911 and seven-digit access phone lines. In this case the CAD center may not be capable to provide a phone-line activation time for their seven-digit phone requests for assistance. If this is the case, it makes sense to except the earliest timestamp in common to most calls for assistance. In many cases that timestamp is the time the dispatch operator presses a key to start call handling.

When time components, such as PSAP call forwarding and CAD call handling, are not known every effort should be made to estimate the duration of each missing process. When analyzing your fire department's deployment keep any reconstructed delays in mind. Remember, the goal is to reconstruct the customer's experience.

CAD timestamps are generally more accurate than time entered manually into RMS. When possible, use a CAD interface to automatically move times from CAD to RMS when the call is initiated. But even if your NFIRS 5 data accurately incorporates CAD data there's still a compelling reason to merge CAD data in RMS.

While NFIRS 5 specifications do a good job of tracking incident data, one important apparatus timestamp is missing. NFIRS 5 does not track the time responding apparatus begins traveling to the scene. This missing timestamp eliminates the ability to calculate both Turnout Time (the time from dispatch to wheels turning to the scene) and Travel Time (the time from wheels turning until the unit completes it's trip to the scene. Merging apparatus enroute time into your NFIRS 5 dataset is the only way to calculate these valuable performance measurements.


In summary the best measurements are those that take into account each step a citizen must take to receive emergency assistance. NFIRS 5 times may not be as accurate or complete as CAD timestamps. When analyzing data make sure CAD timestamps are used to enter and calibrate RMS data.

For additional information about analyzing fire department operations visit:

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2022 Fire Chief. All rights reserved.