Fire departments across the country contribute data to the NFIRS, making it a critical resource for policy and education
By 1973, Smokey Bear had spent nearly 30 years telling Americans that only they could prevent forest fires. Unfortunately, a report published that year by the National Commission on Fire Prevention and Control (NCFPC) found citizens and firefighters alike had a lot to learn about fires. It identified fire education for both groups as the key to reducing damage and casualties during blazes. Congress set about creating new bodies to oversee fire safety, but they still needed accurate data about how fires start and spread.
The National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) was born as a way to collect that data from real-world fires. What began as a handful of departments has grown to include more than 22,000 across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Here’s how it works today and how fire departments throughout the United States benefit from the system.
Ready to dig deeper? Check out The complete guide to fire reporting systems.
What is NFIRS?
The 1973 NCFPC report, titled “America Burning,” inspired Congress to act with unusual speed. It passed the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 to meet the challenge head-on, creating the US Fire Administration (USFA), the National Fire Academy, the Center for Fire Research at the National Bureau of Standards and the National Fire Incident Reporting System all at once.
NFIRS was created with two main goals. First, it needed to help state, local, tribal and US territory governments build out their ability to perform fire reporting and analysis. Second, it needed those governments to hand that data over to create a stockpile of actionable information about fires.
How does NFIRS work?
To meet its goals, the National Fire Incident Reporting System uses standardized forms and sends them to fire departments that opt in. Whenever a participating department returns from incident response, the firefighters fill out forms that detail what happened on the scene. They include information about what firefighters encountered, how they responded and the end results. Those results include an estimate of the dollar value of lost property and any civilian or firefighter casualties.
The department collects its forms and submits them to the state, which validates and consolidates the data contained in those forms into a single database. The state then passes that data on to the National Fire Data Center at the USFA, which uses it in a myriad of ways (more on that later).
NFIRS data captures about 75% of all fire response incidents that occur in the US annually, including approximately 600,00 fire incidents and more than 5 million non-fire incidents. Accurate data from these incidents is of paramount importance to ensure it can be used effectively. That’s why many departments have turned to tech-forward solutions such as body-worn cameras, vehicle cameras and drones. These devices help preserve the objective truth of an incident to make reports easier to write and more accurate. Axon provides top-of-the-line solutions in all three categories. Click here to learn more.
Why is NFIRS important?
NFIRS serves several critical functions for firefighting efforts across the country. Those benefits begin at the individual level, where the standardization of forms makes it easier for firefighters to quickly file reports that maintain thoroughness. The information from their reports can then feed into a data pool at that particular fire department. With data in hand, department leadership can identify trends in its service and examine challenges specific to its community.
When leadership has a clearer understanding of those challenges, it can look for ways to improve service. For example, NFIRS data might reveal the department performs a disproportionate number of vehicle rescues. That can clarify what pieces of equipment could use upgrades or other investments, optimizing budgeting and increasing the department’s effectiveness overall.
At the national level, the standardization of NFIRS provides a shared language for all of the data collected across an enormous amount of land and from a vast array of disparate communities. That makes it much easier to communicate the data both during research and when advocating for policy. Researchers can look at NFIRS data and identify areas that require further information that might have practical applications for firefighters. Faster research can have a measurable effect in terms of property and lives saved from fires.
NFIRS data is frequently used to support legislation, regulations and codes around fire safety. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) can monitor vehicle fires to more rapidly identify cars that need to be recalled. If they find one model or another appearing in an unusual number of fires, they can investigate the issue, identify the dangerous technology in use and more precisely regulate it. That helps keep the public safe.
What are NFIRS codes?
The current version of NFIRS, NFIRS 5.0, uses a standardized code in its reporting to quickly establish information about incidents. These NFIRS codes are represented by six-digit numbers split down the middle by a hyphen – 336-361, for example. Each code corresponds to a pre-determined incident. When a firefighter fills out their NFIRS forms, they select one or more of these codes to help shade in exactly what they faced on scene.
NFIRS codes are separated into nine categories:
100 Series: Fire
200 Series: Overpressure Explosion, Overheat – No Fire
300 Series: Rescue & EMS Incidents
400 Series: Hazardous Condition – No Fire
500 Series: Service Calls
600 Series: Good Intent Calls
700 Series: False Alarms & False Calls
800 Series: Severe Weather & Natural Disaster
900 Series: Special Incident Type
The first digit in all NFIRS codes indicates the category, or series, of the incident. The second and third provide additional information about the type of incident. The last three digits give specifics on the incident.
Let's take 336-361 as our example. The first digit, a 3, tells us this is a rescue or EMS incident. The following 36 adds that it was a water or ice-related rescue. The final 361 specifies the rescue took place in a swimming or recreational water area.
National Fire Incident Reporting System quick reference guide
There are 177 NFIRS codes in total – far too many to memorize. Many NFIRS reporting software solutions make it easy to choose the right option for a given incident. However, the more familiar firefighters are with the list of codes, the more quickly and accurately they can fill out their reports. Here are some of the most common NFIRS codes:
Building fire: 111-111
Vehicle fire (passenger vehicle): 113-131
Cooking fire: 111-113
Chimney or flue fire: 111-114
Fire in mobile home (fixed residence): 112-121
Wildland fire: 114-141
Brush fire: 114-142
Grass fire: 114-143
Rescue & EMS
Medical call (EMS): 332-321
Motor vehicle accident with injuries: 332-322
Motor vehicle accident without injuries: 332-323
Search for person on land: 334-341
Search for person in water: 334-342
Extrication from vehicle: 335-352
Ice rescue: 336-362
Hazardous Condition (No Fire)
Good Intent Calls
Smoke report (non-hostile fire): 665-653
Canceled en route: 661-611
Unable to locate (No incident found at dispatch address): 662-622
For a complete list of NFIRS codes, consult the complete guide on the USFA website.
Fighting fires with Axon
The better the data fire departments collect, the better equipped they are to keep themselves and their communities safe. Whether it’s captured by a drone fleet or a body camera, an objective record of events can lead to better policy, better budgeting, better training materials and more. To learn how Axon solutions can improve your department's operations, get in touch today.