Death In The Line Of Duty

Editor’s note: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries. The program does not seek to determine fault or place blame on fire departments or individual firefighters, but to learn from these tragic events and prevent future similar events. NIOSH is a unit of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Firehouse® Magazine is pleased to join with NIOSH in presenting this valuable information. It is important to note that while some incidents that will be described here occurred several years ago, the information presented is valuable today. The accounts that follow are summaries of NIOSH investigations. The complete reports are available on the program website.

Photo By Butch Adams/The Times
Crews and hoselines are positioned to protect exposures.

Career Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician Dies from Injuries Sustained in Fall from Apparatus (Case F2003-07)

On Jan. 13, 2003, a 46-year-old female career firefighter/emergency medical technician (the victim) died from injuries she received after falling from a moving open-cab engine. The engine was responding to a reported airport emergency with an officer and a firefighter/driver in the cab, a firefighter/paramedic and a firefighter/EMT (the victim) seated in the open cab jump seats. While enroute, as the engine was rounding a bend and accelerating up a slight grade to enter a highway, the victim lost her balance and fell from the apparatus onto the road. The victim was treated at the scene for multiple traumatic injuries and transported to a local hospital. She died from her injuries five days after the incident.

The death certificate listed the cause of death as multiple traumatic injuries.


  • Fire departments should ensure that all persons responding in emergency apparatus are wearing and secured by seatbelts or safety restraints at all times the vehicle is in motion.

  • Fire departments should ensure, when feasible, that each crew riding position is within a fully enclosed personnel area.

    Although there is no direct evidence that the following directly contributed to the fatality, this recommendation is being provided as a reminder of good safety practice. NIOSH investigators concluded that as a matter of prudent safety operations:

  • Fire departments should ensure equipment that is required to be used during emergency response is securely fastened and readily accessible.

Civilian Jumps From Fourth-Story Window of Burning Apartment Building and Strikes Career Firefighter (Case F2002-14)

On Jan. 10, 2002, a 39-year-old male career firefighter (the victim) was injured from being struck by a civilian who jumped from a fourth-story window of an apartment building. The victim and two other firefighters were raising a 35-foot extension ladder to a fourth-story window of the involved structure to rescue two trapped civilians when the incident occurred. The victim was bracing the base of the ladder when the first civilian jumped and landed at their feet. The second civilian jumped immediately thereafter, striking a van and the victim simultaneously. The victim was knocked to the ground, but was able to continue rescuing trapped occupants and finished his shift. The victim experienced severe head, neck and back pain from this incident and was admitted on Jan. 26 to a hospital, where he lapsed into a coma until his death on Feb. 7, 2002.

The county medical examiner listed the cause of death as natural due to a ruptured berry aneurysm. Note: A berry aneurysm is due to a small developmental weakness in the wall of a brain artery, leading to a round (berry-like) outpouching or swelling of the artery. These aneurysms can rupture, causing severe symptoms or death.


  • Fire departments should ensure that adequate numbers of staff are available to immediately respond to emergency incidents.

  • Fire departments should develop, implement and enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) to address the treatment of injuries on-site that include guidelines for evaluating injuries that are not obviously life-threatening.

  • Municipalities and building owners should consider requiring older structures to meet new building codes and standards to improve safety of occupants and firefighters.