Association analyzes rise in firefighter deaths
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Quincy, Mass., is reporting that 112 U.S. firefighters died on the job in 1999, marking the nation’s highest annual firefighter death toll since 1989. “We need to recognize what has caused last year’s increase in fatalities and take the necessary steps to reverse the trend,” says Rita Fahy, NFPA manager of fire databases and systems.
Since 1997, when NFPA began reporting U.S. firefighter fatalities, the greatest number (172) of deaths occurred in 1978, and the fewest (75) occurred in 1992. Overall, firefighter fatalities dropped from an average of 151 deaths per year in the 1970s to 97 in the 1990s.
The latest rise in deaths can be attributed primarily to stress and overexertion, which usually result in heart attacks, according to the association. Most of last year’s fatalities resulted from heart attacks, while 21 percent and 19 percent resulted from entrapment and motor vehicle crashes, respectively. (By motor vehicle crashes, the association is referring to incidents in which the firefighter was either struck by a vehicle or traveling in a vehicle that crashed.)
While half the firefighter deaths occurred at the site of the fire, 29 percent occurred while the victim was responding to or returning from an alarm. Another 9 percent occurred at the scene of a non-fire emergency; 9 percent while the victim was performing non-emergency duties; and 4 percent while the victim was participating in training activities.
“It’s possible that changes in equipment and clothing have allowed firefighters to be more aggressive at fires,” Fahy says. “However, the lack of on-scene accountability of personnel operating at the fire ground … has exposed firefighters to greater dangers. Taking the time to re-evaluate departmental command techniques is an important means of reducing the risks.” Additionally, she notes that safe driving practices and increased attention to firefighter health and fitness are essential to reducing fatalities.
For information on firefighter safety, contact NFPA at (617) 984-7275, or visit the association’s web site at www.nfpa.org.