Every year, fire and EMS departments must submit incident and casualty data to the federal government to stay in compliance with the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) and National EMS Information System (NEMSIS) programs.
The goals of both programs are both laudable and necessary–namely, to create standardized national databases of fire and EMS incidents so that governments can make funding decisions based on accurate information.
The downside of NFIRS and NEMSIS is that departments have to allocate resources to compile data and file the reports. Software such as FIREHOUSE is available to help first responders comply with NFIRS/NEMSIS requirements. But they still cost money, as do the hours, training, and hardware required to run them. To make matters worse, many local governments have cut their IT staffs, meaning that fire and EMS may get even less technical support than they used to.
It likely isn't possible to find a no-cost alternative to NFIRS/NEMSIS filing software, but Emergency Reporting (www.emergencyreporting.com) has come up with a Web-based option that can reduce the time and equipment costs associated with NFIRS/NEMSIS compliance. In fact, the company offers a number of reporting packages for fire-only, EMS-only, and fire/EMS clients.
The company also offers other types of record-keeping options, such as apparatus management, training, and payroll.
To date, "Emergency Reporting has over 125 million Web pages on file, serving more than 50,000 users," said President Dave Adams. The firm was founded in 2003, and in 2006 it became an approved vendor on the federal General Services Administration (GSA) schedule under contract number GS-35F-0345S. This means that government agencies can sign up with Emergency Reporting without having to seek competitive bids.
The price? The monthly subscription cost varies depending on the package chosen and the number of physical fire and/or EMS stations served, plus a one-time setup fee. However, Emergency Reporting allows unlimited users in each location, and each one can be assigned their own username, password, and access level by the department's administrators.
Meanwhile, Emergency Reporting's system can be accessed by any Web-connected computer with a browser and the proper password. No special software or hardware is required. As for upgrades to NFIRS/NEMSIS reporting procedures? Any time they occur, Emergency Reporting says it upgrades its programs to keep them compliant. Customers don't have to do anything to stay current.
All the data stored using Emergency Reporting remains the property of the department that stored it. (The system can also store digital photos.) In most states, Emergency Reporting files NFIRS reports with the state or county fire marshals on the department's behalf. Except for Ohio, NEMSIS reports have to be filed by the departments themselves using data provided by Emergency Reporting.
Emergency Reporting's "Fire Package" is designed to focus on NFIRS incident reporting requirements, with the company billing itself as "an authorized Active Vendor recognized by the U.S. Fire Administration." But in addition, the company's Web platform offers tools for administration, apparatus management, calendar functions, fire inspections, and hydrant maintenance. Also included are applications for daily rosters, payroll, personnel management, reports, and training. The system can be linked to a department's CAD system to aid in incident reporting.
"The Fire Package provides a fast and easy way to use the NFIRS reporting module and 17 additional modules for fire department daily operations," the company says on its Web page.
Emergency Reporting's EMS-only package substitutes NEMSIS Gold-compliant reports for NFIRS and then adds the same management modules provided by the Fire Package. It can be configured to send incident information to the department's EMS billing system. The Fire & EMS package contains both NFIRS and NEMSIS report capabilities, plus the full suite of departmental management tools.
Given how much is riding on accurate NFIRS/NEMSIS reports, fire and EMS managers can be forgiven for worrying about the security of Emergency Reporting's operation. The company says all of its data is stored in a secure Data Center in Seattle, Wash., a locked-door facility protected by surveillance cameras and requiring fingerprint ID for access. The data is stored in primary and backup servers, with the primary storage having a reliability rate exceeding 99.9 percent.
"We were only down for 40 minutes for all of 2010," Adams said. "That was because we were moving the Data Center."
The Sedro-Woolley (WA) Fire Department (SWFD) (population 10,300) was an early Emergency Reporting customer, having adopted its fire/EMS system in late 2003. The department is a mixed operation with four paid members and 36 active volunteer firefighters.
"We were looking for a reporting system where I didn't have to have a special computer to act as a server," said Chief Dean Klinger. "I was introduced to the online system and it worked perfectly for a small budget department."
Operationally, SWFD ran the Emergency Reporting system (ERS) for a few months in training mode, then went live with it at the beginning of 2004. "It's in all of our stations and three of our apparatus," Klinger said, "and soon will be in all of our vehicles."
He said that adopting Emergency Reporting solved several problems for his department. "I used to do my volunteer payroll on notebook paper and ERS helped with that," he explained. "Our old reporting software didn't allow us to track training, maintenance, or personnel records. It tracked only the calls. And then we couldn't track the data we wanted, just the data they wanted. ERS allowed us to track the data we needed to track."
As for after-sales support, he said, "They are great to work with. If you have a problem, they are easy to get ahold of and they will help you resolve your issue."
JAMES CARELESS is an award-winning freelance journalist who specializes in fire/EMS stories. He has appeared in a host of first responder magazines in the United States and Canada.