by Kevin Haines

As departments continue to evolve in this ever-changing world with data analytics, it is very important to understand that fire departments can no longer simply ask for what we need and expect to get it. Colorful language, such as “People will die if we don’t get it,” is continued to be measured with a great deal of skepticism at city halls across the nation. We must now show city management why we need it. That is where the data come in.

I have worked for two different organizations in the past five years, working with accreditation and more specifically, the data analysis in the fire departments. Although the departments neighbor each other, they operate in very different ways with very different needs. Both have a large commercial development growth in the city. One is a medical mecca that boasts five specialized hospitals that are operated by four different healthcare organizations. The other is home to the headquarters of the regional NFL, NFL, and MLS teams, as well as the AA team for the local MLB affiliate.

Plano (TX) Fire-Rescue (an accredited agency) was using its response data to drive decisions about apparatus placement and additional apparatus needs and used a program named PFRStat. This program was modeled after others in the nation, such as AFRStat in Atlanta (Atlanta Fire Rescue is an accredited agency). These programs are adaptations of CitiStat, which was first made famous by the City of Baltimore and Mayor Martin O’Malley. It is a performance-based program that looks at the data of the department to identify trends and weaknesses that can be corrected.

Plano Fire-Rescue used the model to begin to address issues with turnout and travel times. The department uses the program to assess response time data on a monthly basis, which helps members to meet the requirements spelled out in Criterion 2D in the CPSE Fire and Emergency Services Self-Assessment Manual.

In Frisco, the department is experiencing explosive growth as one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation. In 1990, the population was 6,000 people, and the fire department was staffed primarily with volunteers operating out of single station. Today, the population is estimated to be more than 165,000, and the department operates out of eight fire stations with 209 career uniform personnel.

The city continues to expand with 1,500 to 2,000 new residents per month, and this creates a very different dynamic and needs for data analytics than was seen in Plano. For example, in Plano, response vehicles may be needed for district reliability (concentration of resources), but the distribution of stations is already in place. In Frisco, the need for a greater distribution of fire stations still drives the primary needs of the department and the city has added a fire station every two to three years for the past two decades, a trend that will most likely continue for the foreseeable future. The challenge is ensuring correct and timely station placement as the city develops to ensure timely responses.

The Frisco Fire Department reports response times as well as call volumes for current and future districts to the city council every month. This information is ever present, as the city council must balance limited funds for a growing city. However, not all data are related to response times. A great example is when the department looks at total commit times to determine when a new ambulance is needed or the analysis of metrics to determine when additional people are needed for vacation and sick time relief.

The reality is that it doesn’t matter what city you live in or work for; the need for data analytics is necessary to move your organization forward. When it comes to your organization’s performance, the old management adage is still true: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Without measurement, you have no idea if you are improving, remaining the same, or digressing.

Kevin Haines is a captain with the Frisco (TX) Fire Department. He serves as a peer assessor team leader and the department’s accreditation manager. He also works with the CPSE Technical Advising Program as a community risk analysis and standards of cover facilitator. He has been in the fire service for more than 21 years and has a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of North Texas, Denton.