In the UK there is a debate about whether it is reasonable to expect fire fighters to continue working until they are 60 before being eligible for a pension. The first port of call should be to analyse the incidents they attend…

Just before Christmas, UK fire-fighters were in the news over plans to strike due to proposed changes to pensions and work contracts. The government wants to raise the retirement age from 50 to 60. Those against the idea argue that it is unreasonable to expect people in their 50s to maintain the same level of fitness as those in their 20s. Which seems a quite reasonable concern.

But. Do we need all fire-fighters to be as fit as a fiddle? Let’s check the data…

The stats for December are not yet in, so the following is based on incident records from 1st January to 30th November 2014. Three records were removed because they didn’t contain any information, leaving 88,709 to analyse.

First up, let’s have a look at how the incidents breakdown by major category:

Summary of Incidents

Yes, you are reading the pie chart correctly. Nearly 50 percent of all recorded incidents in London are false alarms.

What on Earth is causing them?

Summary of False Alarms

Fire alarms going off incorrectly, mostly… Perhaps we need smarter fire alarms?

Next up, what exactly does ‘Special Services’ cover?

Special Services Incidents

Quite a lot! And some definitely involve potentially dangerous exertions. However not all.  Nearly 40% involve helping people who are stuck. Stuck in lifts or need to get into or out of buildings for some reason other than rescue or evacuation. Some of those incidents will require a degree of fitness – but from everyone on the team?

(RTC is assumed to mean road traffic collision)

And finally, incidents involving the hot stuff:

Fire Incidents

Not much argument here. Over half are primary fires occurring in buildings, vehicles, other structures or forests, or needing more than 5 people to attend. Secondary fires are considered to be those not at a primary location, not involving any casualties or rescues and with less than 5 people attending.

To summarise the different activities, some of the sub-categories have been grouped together to produce the following breakdown:

London Fire Brigade Incidents Summary

And of course there’s all the work involved that is not recorded as incidents. For starters, the fire brigade regularly provides education services for homes and offices, to help prevent fires rather than have to extinguish them.

So is it reasonable to raise the retirement age to 60 or not?

People might want to retire at 50 for other reasons, but being unable to work due to age-related fitness issues isn’t a strong argument based on these statistics. Technology should enable smarter decisions and actions that put fewer fire-fighters in danger, increase availability of specialist equipment when it is needed and better assign appropriate expertise based on the call. It’s time to move on from ‘one size fits all’ job descriptions and recognise the different benefits of gutsy energetic youth and wisdom that comes from years of practice. An effective fire brigade needs both.

…and maybe something needs to be done about all those false alarms…

For a deeper dive into the data: Visualising London Fire Data Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3


For those interested in the analysis tools, plots were created in R Studio using the ggplot2 package with labelling tidied up in Adobe Illustrator

Flickr-BuildingFireFeatured image: Building on fire kindly shared by Kevin Hamm

Blog, Data Science, Visual Analytics
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