Top 5 Considerations When Choosing NFIRS Software
As technology used in firefighting increasing and the tools used on the fire field get progressively “smarter,” the data collected from an incident is becoming richer and more informative. Since the 1970’s, National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) has been instrumental in collecting and aggregating information collected from across the nation. While state participation in NFIRS is voluntary, today all 50 states and the District of Columbia participate, with more than 23,000 fire departments reporting in each year on an average of twenty-three million incidents annually.
To keep up with the newest standards of quality for data, as well as evolving technologies offering new data points, the NFIRS regularly issues updates that must be met by reporting departments (currently, departments must meet NFIRS 5.0 requirements).
Coincidentally, numerous vendors have entered the marketplace with software tools promising to make data recording and reporting for fire departments easier and more efficient. In fact, there are more than 50 vendors registered with NFPA today. So how do you vet them out and find a quality software tool that will add to your efficiencies, rather than detract, so that you and your team can focus on your real jobs – saving lives and property in your community? Here are five key considerations to use when choosing your NFIRS software tool.
- Ease of Use
Probably the most obvious but important consideration, your NFIRS reporting software should make your job easier and efficient, not more difficult. If the process if cumbersome, it can negatively affect your department’s efficiency, not to mention frustrate your team members (meaning they’ll be less likely to follow your SOPs and collect the data you need). Good NFIRS software not only offers good training and easy onboarding, but takes into account how your department works so that your crew can spend less time filling out forms and more time focusing on their jobs, resting, or preparing for real-world situations through training.
Features like progressive validation – that check for errors and ensure accuracy as records are completed, rather than at the end – can save you headaches in going back and searching for errors, or dealing with hidden inaccuracies. You’ll find added value from software providers who have experience in the firefighting and first response arenas as well, since they bring a real-world perspective of what a firefighter encounters, both during an emergency and after.
- Integration with Your Other Systems
If you’re like most departments, you’re already using multiple systems for records, whether it’s for incidents, staffing, inspection, budgeting, audits, or a wide range of administrative tasks. It’s key, then, to ensure that your NFIRS integrates seamlessly with your other systems to reduce duplication of efforts and overall inefficiencies. Clearly communicating with your vendor on other systems you must use, and ensuring they understand how their solution must fit into the bigger picture, is of utmost importance.
Software integration between your systems allows you to understand your department’s needs by having data in a central location, and being to access it whenever you need it. Top-of-the-line NFIRS reporting software should integrate with CAD, scheduling, pre-planning, inspections, and electronic patient care record (ePCR) records. Be sure to voice these needs while you are shopping around; otherwise, you will wish you did later when you are having to create workarounds down the road.
While technology is ever-evolving and “Smart Fire Fighting” gains momentum, it’s important that your NFIRS software reporting tools are open and flexible, and that your provider is forward-thinking and connected to potential new developments in the industry. You don’t want to purchase a solution that will be outdated in a few years, so take time to discuss with your potential solutions provider how they keep abreast of developments not only with NFIRS but the firefighting field in general.
Top vendors are often involved in the firefighting community and professional organizations, sharing knowledge, research, and thought leadership on what the future holds for firefighting. Stay ahead of the curve and be sure that your tools can evolve with the industry.
- Customer-Centric Mindset
As a firefighter, you know that efficiency in your job can mean the difference between life and death for members of your community or for your own team. Anything that takes away from you preparedness and efficiencies – including problems or distractions from software reporting tools – can negatively impact how well your team can do its job. Finding a vendor who prioritizes its customers and understands the nature of firefighting – and works tirelessly to make your life easier – is a key consideration.
Every fire department is different, and finding a solution that can be tailored to your needs, with trustworthy support that helps you avoid downtime or is ready to respond to your questions or issues, is incredibly valuable. You should be able to trust that your provider will make sure that you, and your software tools, will always be compliant with the latest NFIRS requirements through regular updates and communications.
- Cost Transparency
Just like any major purchase, you want to avoid the traps of hidden costs, and you shouldn’t need a law degree to understand all of the costs associated with the NFIRS reporting software you choose. Make sure you do your research beyond the initial quote to know what vendors might charge for upgrades to your initial purchase. For example, you may want to ask if there are any additional charges for: unlimited users, ongoing training, software upgrades, reporting, or live support.
Blowing your budget not only upsets your executives and officers, it can negatively impact what services as a whole you can provide to your community. Don’t get locked in to a tool that will end up costing you substantially more than you expected. Another good tip is to find other departments who have used the solution you are considering to get a first-hand, unbiased insight into the overall cost to get up and running with the new system, and any additional expenses you’ve encountered. Your vendor should be able to provide you these references upon request.
Doing your homework and exercising due diligence when purchasing your NFIRS software reporting tool may take some work now, but your diligence will pay off in the long run, when you have a solution that is flexible, meets your current and future needs, and clearly fits within your budget and training schedules.