NFPA Report Reveals Sharp Drop in Firefighter Fatalities in 2009

For the first time in 3 years, the number of on-the-job firefighter deaths in the United States has dropped below 100, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) newly released annual Firefighter Fatality Report.

The report, which was released June 7, shows a sharp drop in the number of fatalities in 2009. Eighty-two firefighters were killed in the line of duty last year, substantially fewer than the 10-year average of 98 and down even more from the 105 killed in 2008. This is the lowest annual total since NFPA recorded 79 deaths in 1993 and the third lowest total since NFPA began this study in 1977.

“While a drop over one year certainly isn’t enough to show a trend, it is definitely encouraging to see the number of firefighter fatalities drop well below that 10-year average,” said Rita Fahy, NFPA’s manager of fire databases and systems. “We are hopeful that we will continue to see fewer and fewer firefighter fatalities over the next 10 years.”

Each year, NFPA collects data on all firefighter fatalities in the United States that resulted from injuries or illnesses that occurred while the victims were on duty. According to NFPA, the report is a compelling picture of the risks to the nation’s firefighters.

Responder Risks

As in most years, the No. 1 cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities was sudden cardiac death. While the number of such deaths has been trending downwards since the late 1970s, sudden cardiac death still accounted for 39 percent of the on-duty deaths in the last five years, and 42 percent in 2009 alone, underscoring the need for wellness-fitness programs and health screenings for firefighters across the nation.

Other key findings in the report include

  • Six deaths occurred at five intentionally set fires in 2009. From 2000 through 2009, 60 firefighters (6.1 percent of all on-duty deaths) died in connection with intentionally set fires. The number of these deaths annually has been dropping since 1985.
  • Nine deaths occurred in crashes of road vehicles in 2009, a significant decline in the category that regularly accounts for the second largest share of deaths. This is the lowest total since 1983.
  • Over the past 10 years, 29 firefighter deaths have resulted from false calls, including malicious false alarms and alarm malfunctions.
  • Of the 82 firefighters who died while on duty, 41 were volunteer firefighters, 31 were career firefighters, while the remaining were employees or contractors of federal and local land management agencies or private fire safety crews.

The NFPA report examines the types of duties associated with firefighter deaths, the cause and nature of fatal injuries to firefighters and the ages of the firefighters who died. The report highlights deaths in intentionally set fires and in motor vehicle-related incidents and also presents summaries of individual incidents that illustrate important problems or concerns in firefighter safety.

The full report is available as a PDF at http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/osfff.pdf.

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