Information that saves lives: The value of a national fire information database

February 2, 2016

Fire safety practices and regulations vary across Canada. There is no current way to analyze and compare results to see which protocols work better because the data is kept in individual municipal, provincial and territorial databases. Without a nation-wide repository, it is nearly impossible to compare fire services, safety measures, and the effectiveness of fire-related policies across multiple jurisdictions.

“Resources that help fire officials make more efficient, informed decisions are essential to high-risk responder operations such as fires, where the lives of both the responders and the public are at stake,” said Dave Matschke, former Fire Portfolio Manager at Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science (DRDC CSS) as well as a Fire Service Officer.

This is why the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP), a federal program led by DRDC CSS, in partnership with Public Safety Canada, is supporting an important initiative to create a national fire information database (NFID). Len Garis, Surrey Fire Chief and a university professor, is working on this initiative with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs (CAFC) and Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners (CCFMFC), with oversight from Public Safety Canada.

“The NFID will collect fire information from across Canada, so that fire officials can learn how fires correlate with social and community factors,” explains Chief Garis.

 

We will benefit tremendously by being able to use up-to-date data identifying fire safety issues and trends that support the development of fire safety and fire prevention programs and regulations, not only within the respective provinces but on a national basis.

“With the NFID, we want to help first responder chiefs make decisions supported by scientific research and evidence, and contribute to strategies and policies that truly respond to the needs of responders and communities across Canada,” adds Mr. Matschke.

The database will go beyond fires and link up with national data about health, demographics and crime - a first in the world. The data from the NFID could be used to help answer questions such as how successful regional building codes and inspection policies are at preventing fires, how building standards and materials impact fire mortality rates, and how fighting different types of fires affects firefighters’ health. This type of information and the resulting insights, when made available to Fire Chiefs and Fire Marshals across Canada, has the potential to prevent fires and save lives.

“The Canadian Council of Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners as well as the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs will benefit tremendously by being able to use up-to-date data identifying fire safety issues and trends that support the development of fire safety and fire prevention programs and regulations, not only within the respective provinces but on a national basis,” said Harold Pothier, Fire Marshal for the Province of Nova Scotia.

Although the job of a fire official often depends on quick decision-making, Chief Garis advocates that when fire chiefs aren’t in the thick of the action, they “should pursue a more methodological approach. Evidence-based knowledge is becoming a sought after commodity in the first responder community, and experts in the field are developing more tools to provide this kind of knowledge.”

For example, Chief Garis, in collaboration with criminologists Paul Maxim and Darryl Plecas, has created a manual called The Right Decision, which outlines accessible, step-by-step strategies that fire chiefs can use to make informed decisions. The manual was also adapted for use by police chiefs, and over 75,000 copies have been distributed internationally. The manual is now being adapted for local government workers as well.

“Enhancing the evidence base for decisions affecting safety and security is a central goal of CSSP,” said Dr. Mark Williamson, Director General of DRDC CSS. “This program is an essential research component in the Canadian science and technology community, and our key priority is to advance solutions that improve public safety for all Canadians.”

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