By Joe Fratantaro

What happens when your data stinksIn today’s world, we’re all consumers of data. We look at data in our everyday life to find out how different items compare to one another, and we don’t have to search very far to get inundated with information. We compare one car to another, one brand of vitamins to another, one cereal to its competitor—and so forth. And we must hope that the data is predictable, reliable, and valid.

When it comes to comparing fire service capabilities, what tools are available to help fire departments analyze the data? There are methodologies available, but you need a tool that allows a community to compare itself to other communities. The key to this type of analysis, of course, is the data used to generate the comparison. In the never-ending, always-changing world of emergency services, data is the key ingredient in the decision-making process.

However, not all data is equal. As data ages, its predictability, reliability, and validity (PRV) diminish. And those three factors are essential to make sure the data can help a fire department make accurate comparisons. What was true yesterday may not be as true today. Here are the definitions for what each term means in this context:

  • Predictability: the consistent repetition of a state, course of action, behavior, or the like that makes it possible to know in advance what to expect
  • Reliability: the ability to be depended upon for accuracy, honesty, or achievement
  • Validity: sound, just, and well-founded information

The only way to assure that data PRV meets our requirements is to use current, up-to-date, and field-verified data. There are nearly 50,000 fire protection areas in the United States with approximately 28,000 fire departments. ISO has been measuring fire department capabilities for its Public Protection Classification (PPC™) program for more than 40 years. In the last five years, our goal has been to accelerate our data-collection activities. That includes information on the fire department, emergency communications, water supply, and community risk reduction activities (fire prevention, public safety education, and fire investigation programs).

The most important concept for ISO is that the data is timely. More than 85 percent of the fire protection areas in the United States are visited and field verified every five years. Our data’s currency and field validation meets PRV requirements and provides communities with a high level of confidence in its analytical properties.

ISO has also partnered with Emergency Service Consulting International (ESCI), the consulting arm of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), to produce the Community Fire Service Performance Review For Structural Fire Protection. This report provides communities with reliable and current information to compare their fire departments with peer departments of similar size.

The fire service can use the level of data that the report provides in two intuitive ways. First, it finds like communities—those with a similar location, population, and number of commercial versus residential properties, as well as the same types of services. The report uses up to 32 additional benchmarking points of analysis. Second, once the community grouping has been established, we analyze benchmarks pertaining to fire suppression, including apparatus, fire service personnel, training, deployment of apparatus, and community risk reduction.

Because the data is current and field-validated, the benchmarks are relevant in today’s ever-changing times. Fire departments gain the ability to understand how they compare to their counterparts relative to average, high, and low data points. This type of analytics is vital to making informed decisions in community fire protection.

Communities can attempt to do their own benchmarking but may get bogged down in data that doesn’t meet PRV requirements. Properly done reports provide the tools for strategic planning, budget analysis, staffing decisions, equipment purchases, training needs, and community risk reduction programs. They can facilitate sound decisions on what their fire service needs to do to support the community, building owners, and citizens.