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 at

This month’s summaries focus on apparatus accidents.



Volunteer Firefighter Dies After Being Run Over by Brush Truck During Grass Fire Attack (Case F2002-36)


On Aug. 8, 2002, a 28-year-old male volunteer firefighter (the victim) was fatally injured when he was run over by the left front tire of a brush truck. The victim was attacking a grass fire with a charged hoseline from a work platform on the front of the moving brush truck. The brush truck was making a U-turn on the roadway through heavy smoke when another vehicle skidded into it. The victim was ejected from the left side of the work platform and run over by the brush truck. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.


According to the death certificate, the cause of death was “craniofacial crush injuries due to a fall from a moving vehicle with a secondary run-over.”


  • Fire departments should ensure that firefighters attack a brushfire from a safe place on the apparatus or walk alongside the moving apparatus

  • Fire departments should ensure that adequate traffic control is in place before turning attention to the emergency

  • Fire departments should enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) that require operators of fire apparatus to wear seatbelts (restraints) whenever operating a vehicle



Career Firefighter Dies In Tanker Rollover (Case F2002-41)


On Sept. 23, 2002, a 32-year-old female career firefighter was fatally injured when the tanker truck she was driving overturned while returning to the fire station. The tanker truck drifted off the roadway onto the shoulder, causing the driver to lose control of the truck after she overcorrected to bring the truck back onto the roadway. The truck skidded across the roadway, entered a ditch and overturned. The victim was entrapped in the truck and pronounced dead on the scene. After an investigation of the scene was performed by the state highway patrol, the victim was extricated by emergency medical service personnel and transported to a local hospital.


The death certificate listed the cause of death as a fractured neck due to a motor vehicle incident.


  • Ensure that operators of emergency vehicles understand the vehicle characteristics, capabilities and limitations

  • Enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the use of seatbelts in all emergency vehicles



Junior Volunteer Firefighter Dies in Tanker Rollover (Case F2002-39)


On Sept. 5, 2002, a 17-year-old male volunteer firefighter (the victim) was fatally injured after the tanker truck he was driving overturned while responding to a brushfire. The tanker was traveling south on a two-lane county road when it drifted off the right side of the road, causing the driver to lose control. The driver tried to correct the direction of travel of the tanker, but was unable to recover. The tanker went down a slight embankment and overturned, trapping the victim. The victim was extricated and then transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.


According to the medical examiner’s report, the cause of death was massive head and chest trauma.


  • Fire departments should prohibit driving by firefighters under 18 years of age and revise existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for driving fire apparatus so that they reflect insurance guidelines

  • Fire departments should ensure that the radio in the apparatus driving compartment is within convenient reach of the driver

  • Fire departments should incorporate specifics on rollover prevention in SOPs and driver training


  • States should consider developing a junior firefighter and emergency service program that addresses the tasks that minors are permitted to perform in the fire service