In my fire department, we are collecting data minute by minute. Yet we always seem to fall behind in our efforts to make data-fueled decisions that truly improve our daily operations and better position us to weather an uncertain future.
When I first joined the fire service 15 years ago, we were reviewing calls-for-service (CFS) data quarterly. However, we were not doing much more than noting counts or certain types of incidents, as we processed NFIRS data for submission to the U.S. Fire Administration. We had seemingly inexhaustible resources then. When counts increased, we asked for more—and we often got more. Being busier than the year before seemed all the justification we needed to receive funding that allowed us to do more of the same.
That simply has not been true for the last decade. Yet our approach to reviewing CFS data has largely remained the same. We let a month, or three, or six go by and then we check in to see how we did. Primarily, this check-in is happening only at the administrative level. Line officers rarely have access to the bigger picture.
When I first realized the police department was using CFS Analytics™ to inform long-term strategic decisions and as a tool for line officers to make just-in-time adjustments to daily operations, I was intrigued. However, our work is quite different; so, I had my doubts as to whether there was sufficient versatility in the tool.
Connected directly to CAD, CFS Analytics™ not only receives—but also organizes incident and response data. The resulting tables, charts, and graphs allow the department, at multiple levels, to see and respond to the bigger picture in real time. We were suddenly on top of yesterday’s response times—rather than those of last quarter. We saw incident type trends in the making—rather than long after the fact so there was no way to adjust. Line chiefs no longer “had a feeling” about their battalion’s workload, with little time to authorize other shifts. They knew what was happening—when, where, and how frequently – across all shifts.
At the administrative level, we were no longer relying on data analysts to fit in all the requests for information and return them in a format that was easily understandable. Administrative chiefs could easily run their own queries and delve deeper into the information they needed to make the best possible decisions.
Data-fueled finally could fuel our daily operations, our budget requests, and our broader plans to increase resident and firefighter safety.
By Maria Ratliff