Needs Analysis

Fire Prevention Effectiveness Model – Position Paper

Section I - Needs Analysis

Needs analysis flow chart

1.1 Introduction

Needs analysis and objective planning may take a significant amount of time to complete properly. However, it is the only way to ensure that resources are used efficiently and effectively. A department that provides a program to address a low risk situation to public safety may not be making the best use of its resources. For example, a department may be very effective in inspecting restaurants routinely although fire deaths and injuries are occurring in apartment buildings. Modifying the program to address the risks to apartments while maintaining the relative fire safety of restaurants would be a better use of resources.

To improve the fire safety situation in a community, the fire department must use all available resources effectively and efficiently. In order to do this, the fire prevention objectives must be established for the community. The challenge arises in creating the most effective programs to achieve these objectives with the available resources.

It is important to devote adequate time to planning.

The fire concerns of a community should be systematically identified and analyzed to establish a profile of:

  • what the concern is;
  • who it is affecting;
  • where and when in the community it is occurring; and
  • why it is occurring.

This analysis will enable a fire department to select the most effective fire prevention activities to address each particular concern. Activities have been categorized into three areas:

  • Inspections
  • Public Safety Education
  • Fire Incident Evaluation

The fire risks of a community can be determined by analyzing its fire losses to determine the risk indicators for various identifiable categories. Risk indicators are those fire safety issues that are of concern to the community, such as fatalities, injuries and dollar losses.

1.2 Identify The Fire Risk

Identifying the fire risks of a community involves more than determining where the largest dollar loss is or where the most fatalities are occurring. Finding the answers to where, when, why, who and how much will help to focus the solutions.

To analyze the fire concern(s) of a community, all available information should be included to determine what is most at risk from fire. This information should then be used to create a picture of the fire risk(s) in the community.

Fire risk is defined as the chance of a fire occurring and the impact of a fire should it occur. It is not simply the frequency of fire in a subject property. Properties with a very low probability of having a fire (indicated by no fire loss records) but are occupied by a large number of non-ambulatory persons would probably be considered a significant fire risk. Buildings that have only a few occupants but incur a large number of fires every year may also constitute a significant risk.

Fire Risk = Probability of Fire Occurrence x Impact of Fire Occurrence

Note: Properties with a low probability of fire occurrence can still be a significant risk if the impact of fire is high, such as a factory that is the sole employer in a community. Also, a property that has a low impact of fire occurrence but a high probability can be a significant risk.

Fire risk can be organized into three basic headings:

Property Information
Occupant Information
Fire Information

Organizing the information in this way helps to focus the analysis of the fire safety situation. Often risk is organized according to property information, particularly when considering an inspection program. However, occupant information may be more appropriate when considering a public fire safety education program or fire information may be more appropriate when focusing on fire incident evaluations.

Methods

Simple/Preliminary

A detailed analysis of a community's fire risks (as described below) should be conducted. If this is not possible, then a more subjective analysis should be completed. For example, interviews and discussions with informed persons in the community and the department can be conducted or a list established of the properties and residents that are most at risk and why. There should be some statistics or other rationale to substantiate why the identified properties or occupants are at a higher risk.

The agreed upon fire risks of the community should be prioritized. Asking objective questions will help to substantiate these risks and their priority. For example, commercial property inspections may be identified as a high priority due to the many inspection requests that the department receives from lawyers and insurance agents. Is this truly reflective of the community's fire risk? Or is it more an information service provided to the community? If resources are scarce, can the department make better use of its time by inspecting other identified fire risks, such as retirement homes, rather than providing this service?

As time permits or more information becomes available, a more detailed analysis should be conducted to ensure that the conclusions reached are valid and will help in future planning and evaluation.

Thorough Analysis

Sufficient information should be compiled to adequately describe a community's fire risks. This information can be used to create a profile of the fire situation to focus the solutions. (See Appendix I for some examples of needs analysis and a table that can be used to help organize the available information.)

  • At the very minimum, the fire risks should be analyzed according to the different types of properties in a community. This should be completed for all of the categories listed in Appendix I under "Properties", and any other identifiable groups of properties that may be of concern (e.g. group homes).
  • Statistics covering at least three years should be included in the analysis. Where the available information does not allow for a meaningful analysis, it may be appropriate to combine the statistics from your community with those from other similar communities.
  • Additional information on the community should be gathered, such as the total number of similar properties, and organized into appropriate categories. Without these totals, or at least an approximation, meaningful results cannot be derived to understand and quantify the fire situation. For example, if fifty fires occurred over the past three years in restaurants, do restaurants pose a significant fire risk? If there were only fifty restaurants, they certainly would! However, without some idea of how many restaurants there are, it is impossible to determine the fire risk.

Having some idea of the number of properties in the community is essential for planning how to address the fire risks. It is one thing to plan to inspect one hundred properties, quite another to consider inspecting five thousand. Is this feasible? How many staff will be required? How much time will it take? These questions cannot be answered without an estimate of the number of properties. It is also important to know how many properties are involved to determine the effectiveness of your department's actions.

Some of the information may prove difficult to gather or assess. Most municipalities do not know the total number of each type of property in their community. If this is the case then estimates should be used. Information can be obtained from the community's planning, property, or buildings departments. Some information is also available from Statistics Canada. Accurate information should be gathered over time.

When the required information is not readily available, it may be appropriate to gather data before conducting an analysis. For instance, some departments count the number of high-rise residential buildings. However, this may cause an unacceptable delay in defining the fire risks. Therefore, a more simple, preliminary approach may be needed in the interim. The information should be analyzed to determine the relative risk in each category of property, taking into consideration both probability and impact.

In the analysis, all statistical and background information should be stated clearly and objectively to minimize the effects of factors unrelated to the actions of a fire department. For example, the number of fires per thousand population is an objective means to measure the rate of fire occurrence as it eliminates the impact of changes in population. However, fire loss statistics alone do not fully indicate the fire risk.

A community's fire concerns should be described in terms that indicate an adequate understanding of the situation. For example, stating that careless smoking by nursing home residents between the hours of 2200-0600 is a serious fire problem in the community, will allow fire departments to target their programs more effectively.

1.3 Create A Fire Concern Profile

Once the fire risks have been identified, fire departments should know exactly what is happening. The next thing to consider is why it is happening.

Assessing the causes will help to provide the most effective remedy. Often, the solution to a specific fire risk may be dictated by the nature of the problem. For example, it may be more appropriate to address careless smoking fires, which can be caused by a lack of fire safety awareness, alcoholism or some other reason, through public safety education than by inspecting properties. However, it may be most appropriate to provide a program based upon the identified risk group, not the underlying cause. For instance, concern about fires in rooming houses could be addressed by inspecting all rooming houses in the community. Alternatively, it may be best to combine different types of programs such as property inspections and the education of occupants.

Listed below are some possible factors that may increase the impact of fire. Any combination of these may also contribute to the overall fire concern.

  • lack of fire safe behaviour
  • lack of fire safety education of owner and/or occupants
  • lack of property maintenance
  • lack of adequate separation/egress/alarm and detection/suppression
  • alcohol and/or drug impairment
  • removable/correctable sources of ignition
  • exposure of combustible materials
  • lack of human resources
  • lack of water supply
  • lack of security

Once it has been determined why there is a fire concern, the most appropriate steps to improve the situation, and, ultimately improve the overall fire safety of your community should be considered. (For guidance on selecting the most effective programs for the community, see Section II.)

Note: The impact of re-allocating resources must be considered when determining the appropriate programs to select. An evaluation of existing programs will provide an indication of the effect of changing, reducing or eliminating such programs.

Summary of Needs Analysis Process

  1. Create a list of property, occupant and/or fire types relevant to the community.
  2. Determine the number of properties (from accurate sources or by estimate) of each property type within the community, the number of occupants for each occupant type, and the number of fires for each fire type.
  3. Review statistical and other available information to determine the risk indicators for each property, occupant or fire type. Some examples include:
  1. the number of fire incidents and incident rate. (The number of incidents divided by the number of properties.)
  2. the possibility of ignition (high, moderate, low).
  3. the number of fatalities and fatality rate.
  4. the number of injuries and injury rate.
  5. property losses (in dollars).
  6. the expected size of any fire.
  7. the number of persons imperiled if a fire occurs.
  8. the number of persons affected if a fire occurs.
  9. any moral or legal concerns (e.g. businesses licensed by a municipality, a municipality which is responsible for the care of occupants in schools and homes for the aged, or where properties are owned by the municipality, such as community centres).
  1. Prioritize the list of properties, occupants or fires based upon the assessment of their risk.
  2. Assess why there is a fire risk for the listed property, occupant or fire types (e.g. What is causing the fire losses?).
  3. Select programs that effectively address the risks within the available resources. (See Section II).