RURAL Arson Control
NFIRS Reporting Accuracy
There is a need to improve fire cause data reporting on National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) forms.
In none of the jurisdictions surveyed was there observed a systematic method for updating NFIRS reporting forms. At present, a fire officer, upon alerting a state investigator, typically designates the fire cause as either undetermined or suspicious. The fire department then forwards an initial fire reporting form to the appropriate collection agency before obtaining an update from the investi- gator. The state fire investigator’s determination of cause may never reach the stateagency responsible for maintaining fire incident reporting. Even when the investigation is handled entirely by local investigators, the same problem can arise- the investigator’s final cause determination not being incorporated in the fire incident report.
Many fires that are currently reported as undetermined/unknown have, in fact, been determined, just not reported. As a result suspicious and incendiary fires are likely to be seriously under-reported in rural areas. This, in turn, can effect the amount of resources allocated at all levels of government to rural arson control.
A related problem arises from fire officers not understanding the underlying definitions of fire cause used in the NFIRS reporting system. For instance, several rural departments routinely reported juvenile arson as ‘children playing with matches”. NFIRS coding instructions need to clarify that intentional fire setting by children using matches should be classified as suspicious or incendi- ary. The cause of “children playing with matches’ should be restricted to those incidents in which children inadvertently set fire to other materials in the course of playing with matches.
Arson Control Expert Concurrence
Revise NFIRS materials to ensure that guidelines are suggested to strengthen reporting practices (This might be accomplished through the National Fire Information Council.). Investigators should complete a revised 902 form upon completing the fire investigation and submit copies to both the originating fire department and the state NFIRS unit.
Maryland’s Fire Marshal’s Office has an instructor on staff (actually, a staff person assigned to instruct) whose role is to teach firefighters the proper method for filling out Fire Incident Reporting System forms.
One proposal for simplifying NFIRS reporting on fire cause is to substitute