Safety 101 - Lesson 9

Each year firefighters are injured and killed with identified causes and contributing factors being related to their physical conditioning and medical situation.

In 2004, the fatality-related data indicated that there were 107 firefighter deaths. As it relates to physical conditioning and medical situation:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Injury-related data is similarly significant. A 2003 report by the National Fire Protection Association's Fire Analysis and Research Division reports that over a five year period, for minor and moderate firefighter fire ground injuries there were an average of:

  • 9,580 sprains and strains each year (21.2 percent)
  • 6,780 pain only incidents (15 percent), and
  • 5,240 burns (11.6 percent)

When looking at severe (including life threatening injuries), the same report indicated for the same five year period that severe injuries involved:

  • 244 Asphyxiation incidents (17.3 percent)
  • 231 Cardiac symptoms incidents (16.4 percent)
  • 120 Dizziness or fainting incidents (8.5 percent)
  • 102 Dehydration incidents (7.2 percent)
  • 81 Difficulty breathing (5.7percent )

Again, it was found that a substantial number of severe asphyxiation injuries occurred with no breathing apparatus being used. (43.2 percent).

The National Fallen Firefighters Everyone Goes Home Program identified several initiatives that deal with the issue and include:

  1. Firefighter Maintenance Program that involves:
    • regular medical check ups
    • physical exercise
    • eating healthy
  2. When working at an incident, rehabilitation becomes important and involves:
    • stopping before you drop by cooling down when hot, warming up when cold and drying off when wet,
    • staying hydrated with non-caffeinated drinks, and
    • monitoring your vital signs

Based upon the data provided by NFPA and NFFF, it is also important to stress the need for using self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) during all phases of fire ground operations, and even during some outside activities.

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 the vehicles that you use daily in the performance of our duties as firefighters.

Lesson #9

The firefighter takes the call, dispatches the company, drives the apparatus and performs the functions once on site. Without a physically fit "basic firefighting machine", the job of the fire department cannot be done effectively.

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.