For many years, numerous speakers at virtually every major fire service gathering have focused on data and data analytics. Interpreting and using data have become routine in fire service management. Decisions on a wide range of critical issues such as funding, apparatus purchases, station placement, and staffing are backed and validated using data obtained from a wide variety of sources. The famous British politician Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” He was referencing the statistical interpretation of data, today referred to as data analytics. Understanding how to correctly and effectively analyze data is mandatory to good management today.
Today, the ability to analyze data has evolved greatly and improved dramatically. Data analytics is the task of extracting meaning from raw data using customized computer systems. These systems segregate, organize, and model the data to draw conclusions and identify patterns. While data analytics is generally used when referring to big data, it can be used with any type of historical data.
Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and UL Safety reported on the data they have been collecting on fire behavior. I encourage you to check out their cutting-edge research at: https://ulfirefightersafety.org/ and https://www.nist.gov/el/fire-research-division-73300/firegov-fire-service.
Unlike any time in history, the influx of data today has influenced decisions and literally transformed the world. The whole world is focused on data and extracting meaningful information from them. The fire service is no exception. Sifting through the data can be overwhelming, and this is where data analytics comes in.
In January 2017, Forbes published an article titled, “Is Big Data Analytics the Secret to Successful Fire Fighting?” It was written by Bernard Marr, author of Data Strategy. In the article, Marr makes the following point: “Firefighters generally manage to safely and efficiently tackle the most common emergencies they are called to with a minimum of waste. But, problems most often arise during “black swan” events. So, in that four minutes driving to an incident, I want information that is way more structured—I want to be able to put up a red flag which says, ‘You are going somewhere which may not be the standard—which may be something you haven’t encountered before.’ ”
In his article, Marr talks about starting a “Firebrary,” which he describes as a standard library or glossary of firefighting terms and definitions that can be shared between departments to ensure they are literally speaking the same language. “This was a vital step, because otherwise no matter how big and exciting their data set gets, everyone has to be interpreting it through the same lens, or insights and predictions could be based on a flawed analysis,” he wrote.
Predictive modeling can be used to construct a picture of the risk profile of the area where the incident is taking place. Data can be taken from fire hose sensors and personal protective equipment to build models which can be used to assess risk. W.S. Darley & Co. is now hosting a platform where new technology like this can be shared at www.smartfirefighting.com.
For more than 25 years, the Fire Apparatus Manufacturers’ Association (FAMA) has kept detailed statistical data tracking the number and type of fire apparatus manufactured each year. It tracks everything from the type of vehicle purchased to the size of pump and the engine. Chart 1 is a snapshot of the number of trucks sold in North America. As you can see, the number of vehicles sold annually is down about 30 percent compared with 10 years ago. The primary reason appears to be a lack of funding that faces many departments across the United States, thus putting many of our firefighters at risk due to obsolete equipment. There may be other reasons for the decline, too. To take a deeper dive into these data, FAMA recently hired an economist to conduct a data analytical study to determine the statistical correlation to the economy as well as other trends. Most importantly, this study will allow FAMA members to better understand the changing needs of the fire service, allowing them to manufacture fire apparatus and equipment better suited to meet the need of today’s firefighters.
FAMA is committed to the manufacture and sale of safe, efficient emergency response vehicles and equipment. FAMA urges fire departments to evaluate the full range of safety features offered by its member companies.