FireFighter Fatalities in 2009

The USFA recently issued the Report on Firefighter Fatalities in the Undited States for the year 2009. Ninety (90) on-duty firefighters from 33 states lost their lives as the result of incidents that occurred in 2009. Pennsylvania experienced the highest number of fatalities (8). In addition to Pennsylvania, only New York (7), North Carolina (6), Louisiana (5), and Texas (5), respectively, had 5 or more firefighter fatalities. This compares favorably to 2008′s firefighter losses where 9 states experienced 5 or more on-duty fatalities. The total number of fatalities in 2009 was one of the lowest totals in more than 30 years of record.

The unique and specific objective of Firefighter Fatalities in the United States is to identify all on-duty firefighter fatalities that occurred in the United States and its protectorates during the calendar year and to present in summary narrative form the circumstances surrounding each occurrence.

An overview of the 90 firefighters that died while on duty in 2009:

  • The total break down included 47 volunteer, 36 career, and 7 wildland agency firefighters.
  • There were 6 firefighter fatality incidents where 2 or more firefighters were killed, claiming a total of 13 firefighters’ lives.
  • 16 firefighters died in duties associated with wildland fires, compared to 26 such fatalities in 2008.
  • Activities related to emergency incidents resulted in the deaths of 57 firefighters.
  • 30 firefighters died while engaging in activities at the scene of a fire.
  • 15 firefighters died while responding to or returning from 13 emergency incidents in 2009. This compares to 24 responding/returning fatalities in 2008.
  • 10 firefighters died while they were engaged in training activities.
  • 14 firefighters died after the conclusion of their on-duty activity.
  • Heart attacks were the most frequent cause of death with 39 firefighter deaths.

Heart attacks were the most frequent cause of death with 39 firefighter deaths. For 33 years, USFA has tracked the number of firefighter fatalities and conducted an annual analysis. Through the collection of information on the causes of firefighter deaths, the USFA is able to focus on specific problems and direct efforts toward finding solutions to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities in the future. This information is also used by many organizations to measure the effectiveness of their current efforts directed toward firefighter health and safety.

Type of Duty Activities related to emergency incidents resulted in the deaths of 57 firefighters in 2009. (This includes all firefighters who died responding to an emergency or at an emergency scene, returning from an emergency incident, and during other emergency-related activities. Nonemergency activities accounted for 33 fatalities. Nonemergency duties include training, administrative activities, performing other functions that are not related to an emergency incident, and post incident fatalities where the firefighter does not experience the illness or injury during the emergency. Non-Emergency Type of Duty LODD accounted for 36.6% (33) versus Emergency Type of Duty which accounted for 63.3% (57) LODD.

In 2009, 49 firefighters died while responding to or working on the scene of an emergency. This number includes deaths resulting from injuries sustained on the incident scene or en route to the incident scene and firefighters who became ill on an incident scene and later died. It does not include firefighters who became ill or died after or while returning from an incident, e.g., a vehicle collision.

Thirty-nine firefighters were killed during firefighting duties; 3 firefighters were killed on emergency medical services (EMS) calls; 5 on motor vehicle accidents; 1 firefighter was killed in association with a weather incident; and 1 was killed during other emergency circumstances.

Of the 30 firefighters killed during fireground operations in 2009, 19 firefighters died while on the scene of a structure fire, 9 firefighters died while en route or at the scene of a wildland or outside fire, and 1 firefighter at the scene of a vehicle fire. One other firefighter fell ill while at the scene of an alarm in an apartment building and later died from a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) after being transported to the hospital.

Types of fireground activities in which firefighters were engaged at the time they sustained their fatal injuries or illnesses identified Fire Fighting duty accounting for 79.6% (39), with Motor Vehicle Accidents accounting for 10.2% (5). This total includes all firefighting duties, such as wildland fire-fighting and structural firefighting. There were 19 fatalities in 2009 where firefighters be-came ill or injured while on the scene of a structure fire.

The distribution of LODD deaths by fixed property use identified residential property use as the leading occupancy resulting in a LODD with 13 events, followed by commercial occupancy use resulting in six events. As in most years, residential occupancies accounted for the highest number of these fireground fatalities in 2009.

In 2009, there were nine firefighter fatalities where the type of emergency duty was not related to a fire. Four were from motor vehicle accidents, four from EMS incidents, and one fatality was related to an in-clement weather incident. In 2009, 14 firefighters died after the conclusion of their on-duty activity. Six deaths were due to heart at-tacks, five were due to CVA/strokes, and three were due to other causes (one aortic separation, one from asthma, and one unknown).

Firefighting is extremely strenuous physical work and is likely one of the most physically demanding activities that the human body performs. Stress or overexertion is a general category that includes all firefighter deaths that are cardiac or cerebrovascular in nature such as heart attacks, strokes, and other events such as extreme climatic thermal expo-sure. Classification of a firefighter fatality in this cause of fatal injury category does not necessarily indicate that a firefighter was in poor physical condition.

Fifty firefighters died in 2009 as a result of stress/ overexertion:

  • Thirty-nine firefighters died due to a heart attack.
  • Eight firefighters died due to CVAs.
  • One firefighter died from heat exhaustion.
  • One firefighter died from a pulmonary embolism.
  • One firefighter died from damage to a heart valve, an acute event caused by the extreme physical exertion. 

Lost or Disoriented Two firefighters died in 2009 when they became lost or disoriented inside of a manufactured home next to a camper where the fire had originated. The fire-fighters advanced an attack line into the home as other firefighters attacked the fire in the camper. Five to 10 minutes after their entry, the pump operator sounded an evacuation signal, concerned that he was running out of water. When the two firefighters did not emerge from the home, firefighters called out for them, at-tempted to contact them on the radio, and tugged on the attack line to no avail. The firefighters were eventually discovered in the front room of the home un-conscious. Both firefighters were pronounced dead at the scene.

Caught or Trapped  Three firefighters were killed in 2009 in two separate incidents when they were caught or trapped. This classification covers firefighters trapped in wildland and structural fires who were unable to escape due to rapid fire progression and the byproducts of smoke, heat, toxic gases, and flame. This classification also includes firefighters who drowned, and those who were trapped and crushed.

  • The cause of death for one firefighter was listed as asphyxiation due to probable carbon monoxide toxicity after he had re-entered a large grain silo to assist a fellow firefighter attempt an exit from the structure. Both firefighters subsequently lost conscious-ness. Firefighters on the exterior cut a hole in the metal wall of the bin and extricated the firefighters, saving one.
  • Two firefighters were caught and trapped after they advanced an attack line to the interior of the residence and fire conditions changed rapidly.

Collapse Two firefighters died in 2009 while they were searching a burning commercial structure and the main floor collapsed trapping the firefighters.

For a copy of the entire USFA Firefighter Fatalities in the United States in 2009 Report, HERE

USFA Statistics, HERE

Adobe PDF, 215 KbU.S. Firefighter Disorientation Study (PDF, 215 Kb)

Adobe PDF, 2.5 MbFire-Related Firefighter Injuries in 2004 (PDF, 2.5 Mb)

Adobe PDF, 3.0 MbFirefighter Fatality Retrospective Study 1990-2000 (PDF, 3.0 Mb)

Adobe PDF, 1.1 MbFire in the United States, Chapter 5: Firefighter Casualties (PDF, 1.1 Mb)

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