High Number Looms for '07 LODDs

The U.S. fire service is on course for a record-setting year. But, it's not one that will result in toasts and high-fives.

As of Friday morning, 102 firefighters had died while performing their duties. Last year, 106 personnel gave the ultimate sacrifice.

This year's number to date is the highest since 2004 when 104 firefighters had perished by Nov.1, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration.

By comparison, records show 90 had died by this time last year; and 95 in 2005.

Fire service officials who are disappointed to see the tide changing say changes in culture and behavior are paramount. Departments must do everything possible to push safety and health, and make it everyone's responsibility.

"It's devastating," Dr. Burt Clark said of the recent statistics. "Twelve of those deaths could have been prevented if the person had been wearing a seat belt."

Clark said buckling up should be a no-brainer. "Every single person should be held accountable -- from the fire chief to the rookie. Nothing will change until people take responsibility"

Clark has been spearheading an effort to get all fire departments to accept the seatbelt challenge, and make buckling up a top priority.

The executive director of the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation said he also hates what he's been seeing.

"I'm concerned, very concerned," said Ron Siarnicki. "There appears to be a spike in deaths of firefighters and law enforcement this year.

There have been several incidents in which multiple firefighters have been killed. They include fires in South Carolina, Texas, Boston, California and New York.

"It's been a unique year."

Siarnicki said despite the numbers, fire departments are taking steps to promote safety. "We have to stay the course, and promote the 16 Life Safety Initiatives. We have to push forward to change the fire service culture."

A report shows from Jan.1 through Oct.31, the victims included 49 volunteers, 46 career, 2 wildland full-time, 2 paid-on-call;, and one each, wildland part-time, wildland contract and industrial.

Heart attacks are still the top killer, and listed as the cause in 43 deaths. Traumatic injuries claimed 33, and 15 died of asphyxiation.

The types of duty those firefighters involved responding, 21; training, 10; on scene fire, 35; on scene non fire, 7; after fire, 10; returning, 2 and other duties, 17.

Statisticians noted that 65.6 percent of the fatalities were related to emergency duty. Two were killed at suspicious fires.

June was the deadliest month -- 15 -- which includes the nine firefighters killed in a Charleston, S.C. store blaze.

The types of incidents in which firefighters died include structure fires, 45; 35-non incident related; six crashes, five wildland; four EMS, three hazmat, and one each, technical rescue and false alarm.