FEMA fights fire with fire database

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is building a first-ever centralized database of nationwide fire department information to enable the agency to provide better fire training and support.

The database, run by FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration, will identify every fire department in the United States and list information about them, such as how many firefighters and stations each department has, the populations they protect and their capabilities.

USFA officials will use the information to help them make programmatic decisions, and it will serve as a baseline from which to sample fire loss data. The database will be available to fire service organizations and the public.

Brad Pabody, fire program specialist at the USFA, said the database will improve the agency's ability to keep tabs on fire departments' needs and, in turn, provide customized training and other services. Until now, information such as how many firefighters work full-time and how many are volunteers wasn't available, he said. "We need to have a better handle on the people we're providing service[s] to."

A number of data products and reports provide estimates about fire department demographics, but currently there is no single compilation of such data, said Jim Heeschen, fire program specialist at the USFA.

The fire department database project is being launched as part of an action plan based on the work of a 13-member blue-ribbon panel the USFA formed to examine its structure, mission, funding, and programmatic and policy needs. According to the panel's report, there are approximately 32,000 fire departments and 1.2 million firefighters nationwide.

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