The Naval Postgraduate School & The U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Putting Out the Mystery of Fire Incident Causes: NASFM Gives Fire Incident Reporting a Facelift

The National Association of State Fire Marshals (NASFM) Fire Research and Education Foundation has released a report focusing on these burning questions: why do so many fire incident causes remain undetermined, and how can they improve the system of reporting?

The report is called "Conquering the 'Unknowns': Research and Recommendations on the Chronic Problem of Undetermined and Missing Data in the Causal Factors Sections of the National Fire Incident Reporting System".

NASFM focused on the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS), which often hosts gaps in information which, in the long run, can lead to ineffective fire prevention and training. The goals of the NASFM Foundation project were threefold:

  1. "Obtain a much better understanding of why a large percentage of the area of origin of fires are being reported as Undetermined or left blank, and the causal elements of the fires are being reported as Undetermined, or not reported at all, or inappropriately coded as 'none' in fire incident data.
  2. "Report on findings, with an emphasis on strategies for how departments can overcome barriers to more effective fire data reporting.
  3. "Identify gaps that may exist in available resources to educate and train fire department personnel on complete and accurate recording and reporting of fire data, and create a plan for developing/updating needed resources in the future."

In order to try and meet these goals, NASFM appointed an advisory committee to guide the project; they collected fire department policies and communications on fire incident data collection, and they conducted "in-depth interviews with personnel who input fire incident data." NASFM also administered online surveys, compiled resources in an electronic toolkit to help improve origin reporting, and identified information gaps to update available resources.

From their wealth of research and data, NASFM found that there are five main reasons for why complete reporting of fire incident data has been lacking:

  1. "Available information about investigative fires […] is too often not included or underreported"
  2. Reporters are hesitant to declare cause because they fear issues with liability
  3. NFIRS isn't making it clear just how important data collection is
  4. NFIRS is overly complex and difficult to use
  5. There is a need for systems that improve quality control in fire incident reporting

The report addresses each of these concerns in an attempt to put out the fire on gaps in reporting.

For more from the NASFM, visit their website.