National fire information database – a world’s first

A National Fire Information Database will help fire officials learn how fires correlate with social and community factors.

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Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and other government departments are developing a national fire information database (NFID), linking national data about health, demographics and crime.

The data that goes beyond fires 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, once available to fire chiefs and fire marshals across Canada, has the potential to prevent fires and save lives.

Fire safety practices and regulations vary across Canada. There isn’t currently a way to analyze and compare results to assess 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 NFID. Len Garis, Surrey Fire Chief and a university professor, is working on this initiative with the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Council of Canadian Fire Marshals and Fire Commissioners, 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,” says Chief Garis.

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 several criminologists, 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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