Why do firefighters need so many reports?

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Why do firefighters need so many reports?
Los Angeles City Fire Department firefighters working on a house fire in Mar Vista, West Los Angeles. Image credit: Chris Lee

It seems like there just about everything that happens in the fire station these days needs to be entered into a computer.  Every one that shows up at work goes in the computer.  Every one that has a day off goes in the computer.  Every incident gets entered into the computer.  Any time we do training, perform a vehicle check, or do a fire inspection it all has to be properly recorded in the computer.

Most fire departments today have some pretty sophisticated computer software that tracks all of their activities.  If you ask a lot of firefighters it seems like they spend their entire shift behind the computer.  Some days that is true.  These information systems are being used help us all be better trained, provide manpower and resources, and also to make sure we get properly paid.  Everything that gets put into that computer is being used somewhere by someone.

The most common computer entries are done to record incidents we respond to, what we find there, and what we did to resolve the problem.   On a busy day these reports seem like an unnecessary burden that is a waste of time.  There are a lot of reasons why we should all be as accurate as possible to report the entire story when we record a fire incident.  The incident report that you write should include enough information that it will jar your memory if you ever need to follow up or even testify in court about the call.  Too often we see reports that don’t have any specific information.  Responding for a false alarm to some firefighters means a quick report that just says it was a false activation.  A more accurate way to report that call would be to use the proper code that indicates if it was a sprinkler malfunction, intentional or unintentional false alarm.  All of these specifics will be needed when it comes time to make decisions that need those facts.  Many times these statistics are used to help the decision makers when they assign vehicles and manpower to different incident types.  The narratives for these reports should include details about which detector was activated so follow up by fire prevention can pinpoint the problem and prevent future false alarms.

Training reports are entered into computers for many reasons.  There is a big list of training requirements for first responders.  When we enter those training reports for annual fit testing, and protective clothing inspections we are providing proof that we do in fact complete those things.  Training reports should include enough information so that data can be analyzed to make sure firefighters are getting the necessary training in all areas of firefighting.

Any computer entry should have to go through a quality control check.  These checks don’t mean that ever entry needs to be looked over in detail, but there does need to be a process for review.  Most fire department data systems have the ability to create reports that will list calls by response time, and total time spent on a call.  If these reports are run monthly it will pick out calls that seem to be a little extreme.  A common mistake with incident reports is when a call beings on one day and ends on the next.  If firefighters aren’t careful entering these reports they can sometimes make it look like an incident lasted 25 hours.  Quality control reports will pick that out and help correct those errors.

Every report entered into the system has a purpose.  If the information you enter in the report isn’t accurate the information coming out of your system will not be accurate.  If you put garbage in the report you can’t expect anything but garbage to come out in your analysis.  The little extra time it takes to do it correctly is worth it to everybody.




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