NFPA: Firefighter Deaths Lowest Since 1977

The National Fire Protection Association released its on-duty death report at its annual conference in Boston today, and 2010 saw another decline in fatalities.

Seventy-two firefighters were killed while on duty, the lowest total tracked by the NFPA since it began conducting its annual study in1977.

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The total is ten less than the number of on-duty deaths in 2009 and is a considerable decline from the 105 tallied in 2008.

The average number of deaths annually over the past 10 years is 95.

"We are very pleased to see that the number of on-duty firefighter deaths is at an historic low and continues to decline each year," NFPA President James Shannon said in a statement.

"We strongly believe that the advances in training, equipment and fire codes are a major factor in reducing the deaths of these brave men and women that make up the ranks of volunteer and career firefighters."

Medical issues remained the biggest cause of fatalities, most notably heart attacks and other sudden cardiac events.

Of the 39 deaths attributed to overexertion, stress and related medical issues, 34 were classified as sudden cardiac deaths and five were due to strokes or brain aneurysm.

Forty-four of the fallen firefighters were volunteers, 25 were career, two were employees of state land management agencies and one was a member of a prison inmate crew.

There were four double-fatality incidents.

Two firefighters died in a vehicle crash while returning from a training weekend, two died in an apparatus crash while responding to a structure fire and four firefighters were killed during interior operations at two structure fires.

The NFPA considers on-duty fatalities to include those resulting from injuries, illnesses and fatal mishaps involving nonemergency occupational hazards.

The group's criteria differs from that of the U.S. Fire Administration, as it does not include fallen firefighters included under the Hometown Heroes Act.

The Hometown Heroes Survivors Benefit Act -- passed in 2003 -- presumes that a heart attack or stroke is in the line of duty if the firefighter was engaged in stressful or strenuous physical activity while on-duty and the firefighter became ill while on-duty or within 24 hours.

In 2010, the USFA counted 87 firefighters as having died while on duty. Staff Writer Ed Ballam will be reporting this week from the 2011 NFPA Conference & Expo in Boston.