Safety 101 - Lesson 11

Each year firefighters are injured and killed with identified causes and contributing factors being related to performance at the scenes of emergencies.

In 2004, the fatality-related data indicated that there were 107 firefighter deaths. As it relates to performance at the scene of an emergency:

  • One-half of the firefighter deaths were attributed to non-traumatic injuries such as heart attacks and strokes. Heart attacks caused the deaths of 49 firefighters.
  • Half of the firefighters that died in 2004 died from traumatic injuries such as asphyxiation, burns, drowning, vehicle crashes, and other physical injuries.
  • The balance of firefighter deaths in 2004 were attributed to non-traumatic injuries such as heart attacks and strokes. Heart attacks caused the deaths of 49 on-duty firefighters.
  • Nine firefighters died in 2004 in response to wildland fires (grass, trees, brush). This is the lowest level of wildland-related firefighter deaths since 1996 and represents a significant drop from the 29 wildland-related firefighter deaths that occurred in 2003.
  • Five firefighters were killed when they were struck by passing vehicles at the scene of an emergency.
  • A Kentucky firefighter was shot and killed as she approached an emergency that involved domestic violence.
  • Three firefighters died in aircraft crashes; one in a medical helicopter and two wildland fire fighting aircraft.
  • Five firefighters died in crashes that involved responding fire apparatus.
  • The average age of a firefighter that died of a heart attack or stroke was 52, and the average age of firefighters who died of traumatic injuries was 42.

In addition, Additional data reported in the NFPA U.S. Fire Data Profile through 2003 indicated that firefighters have a higher risk for injury/death when fighting fires in vacant buildings.

Lesson 9
  • 9,580 sprains and strains each year (21.2%)
  • 6,780 pain only incidents (15%), and
  • 5,240 burns (11.6%).
  • 244 Asphyxiation incidents (17.3%)
  • 231 Cardiac symptoms incidents (16.4%)
  • 120 Dizziness or fainting incidents (8.5%)
  • 102 Dehydration incidents (7.2%)
  • 81 Difficulty breathing (5.7%)
  1. Firefighter Maintenance Program that involves:
  • regular medical check-ups
  • physical exercise
  • eating healthy
  • Working as a team
  • Staying together -accountability and crew integrity are essential
  • Staying oriented
  • Managing your air supply
  • Getting off apparatus with tools and a thermal imager for EVERY interior operating team
  • A radio for every member
  • Provide Constant Updates
  • Constantly assess the Risk/Benefit model
  • Sizing up and evaluating risks before attacking
  • Not risking a firefighter's LIFE to save property
  • Closely monitor changing conditions
  • Stopping before you drop by cooling down when hot, warming up when cold and drying off when wet,
  • Stay hydrated with non-caffeinated drinks, and
  • Monitor your vital signs.

Couple these initiatives with the data indicated above and you are on your way to developing the criteria upon which to act locally to prevent firefighter accidents, injuries, and death as it relates to your performance at emergencies in your duties as firefighters.

Lesson #11

Once you are at the scene, risk assessment and calculated safe performance must be paramount in the mind of all firefighters and officers. If you don't make it the top priority, accidents or worse can happen and it degrades your performance potential to the community - and maybe worse.

Safety 101 - A new series from the technical and administrative perspective, designed to help you reduce emergency responder injuries, illnesses, property loss and death!


Dr. William F. Jenaway, CSP, CFO, CFPS is Executive Vice President of VFIS and has over 30 years experience in Safety and Risk Management, in the insurance industry. Bill is also an adjunct professor in Risk Analysis in the Graduate School at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. He was named "Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year" as Chief of the King of Prussia, PA, Volunteer Fire Company, and is the author the text Emergency Service Risk Management.