NFPA: 2009 FF Deaths Lowest Since '93

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Last year, 82 firefighters lost their lives while on duty, the lowest number since 1993, the NFPA announced Monday.

While the news was especially encouraging, NFPA researcher Rita Fahy added: "One year does not make a trend."

Of those killed, 41 were volunteers; 31 were career; five were employees of federal or state land management agencies; four were contractors to federal land management and a one was a member of a racetrack fire safety crew, according to the report.

The report was released during the NFPA's annual conference in Las Vegas.

Overexertion or stress continues to be the number one killer of firefighters. Sudden cardiac arrests accounted for 43 percent of the deaths in 2009, according to the report.

Internal trauma was second, 35 percent, followed by stroke and asphyxiation, both 6 percent.

The majority of the deaths last year -- 33 percent -- occurred on the fire ground, while 24 percent happened while responding to or returning from a call.

Fahy pointed out that not all of the fatalities that occurred responding or returning from incidents involved crashes. Many were cardiac-related.

Only one firefighter died responding to an incident in his personal vehicle, however, others perished in wrecks involving fire apparatus.

Statistics also show that blazes in vacant houses were blamed for 15 percent of firefighter fatalities. None of the structures had sprinklers, Fahy noted.

There were 11 deaths during training last year, but none during live burn drills.

One firefighter also was shot at an EMS incident. Fahy said early on, murder wasn't part of her report. However, that has changed in the past few years.

The deaths of personnel ranged from 18 to 78 with the median age, 47.

The NFPA counts any injury or illness while on duty that results in a death.

Its criteria differs from the NFFF and the USFA.

On-duty means any activity associated with the fire service including station duties as well as training, education and maintenance. Administrative functions also are counted.

The NFFF counts line-of-duty deaths and those who qualify as "Hometown Heroes." However, it will not include those cases where drug abuse or negligence were factors.

The USFA keeps track of on-duty fatalities as well as those who would be eligible for PSOB benefits under the Hometown Heroes Act.

Fahy also touched on a special analysis about firefighter deaths while operating inside a structure.

She is currently reviewing data, and her report will be completed in about a month.

While deaths were declining for a few years, they've started increasing again, she said.

"I can only look at the numbers," she said. "There are a number of questions to be answered..."

Among those included: Are firefighters putting themselves at greater risk? Are improved PPE misunderstood or ignored?

Fahy said those questions and others are for members of the fire service to help answer.