The United States Fire Administration has announced that a total of 110 firefighters died while on-duty in the United States in 2003, a higher number of fatalities than in most recent years.
This number and statistics about the firefighters' deaths are provisional and subject to change as the USFA verifies data and prepares its annual fatality report to be released later this year. The USFA analyzes information about firefighter deaths each year to determine trends and make recommendations that may help reduce fatalities in the future.
The USFA's current data shows that despite advances in training and technology, the number of firefighter deaths per year has actually gone up during recent years rather than down. Between 1993 and 2003 the average number of firefighter deaths per year, not including those killed in 2001 due to terrorism at the World Trade Center, was 98 deaths. However in 2000 there were 103 deaths, in 2001 there were 98 plus the 346 World Trade Center Deaths, in 2002 there were 100 deaths and now in 2003, there were 110 deaths.
According to the USFA, 36 states and Guam saw at least one firefighter die last year.
Firefighter Deaths Of The Last 10 Years
- 1993 - 77
- 1994 - 104
- 1995 - 97
- 1996 - 95
- 1997 - 95
- 1998 - 91
- 1999 - 113
- 2000 - 103
- 2001 - 98 plus the 346 World Trade Center deaths, totaling 444
- 2002 - 100
- 2003 - 110
Causes of Death
Heart attacks were the top cause of death in 2003, claiming the lives of at least 42 firefighters, 38 percent of all firefighter deaths for the year. The victims ranged from age 35 to 81, with an average age of 52.7.
Heart attacks have been a top killer every year studied by the USFA although in 2001 they were dwarfed by the 346 firefighter deaths due to terrorism at the World Trade Center. There were 31 heart attacks in 2002, 34 in 2001, 30 in 2000 and 54 in 1999.
The majority of the other firefighters who died on duty in 2003 died of traumatic injuries from motor vehicle accidents, operations at structure fires, wildfires, training accidents, and falls. Sixty firefighters, or 55 percent of all firefighters who died on duty on 2003, suffered injuries from these types of activities, most often motor vehicle accidents. Some of the year's highest profile tragedies involved motor vehicle accidents, including the crash that claimed eight Oregon firefighters on their way home from fighting a wildfire in South Fork, Idaho, and the drunk driving crash that killed 16-year-old Wyoming fire explorer Anndee Huber.
DEATHS AT STRUCTURE FIRES
There were nine firefighters who died as a result of traumatic injuries sustained at structure fires. Four of these deaths occurred during multiple fatality incidents.
John Garman and Kenneth Jutte of the New Bremen German Township Fire Department in Ohio were hosing down dust in a lumber company silo in an effort to avoid an explosion. However an explosion did occur, killing them and injuring others.
Also, Charles Zachary and Trent A Kirk of the Memphis, Tennessee Fire Department died from injuries they received when they became trapped inside of a burning Family Dollar store.
DEATHS AT WILDFIRES
There were seven deaths due to traumatic injuries sustained during operations at wildfires.
One of the most well known wildfire tragedies occurred when Novato, California firefighter Steve Rucker died after he and two members of his crew were overrun by fire while operating at the Cedar fire in San Diego County.
Two firefighters, Jeff Allen and Shane Heath of the U.S. Forest Service in Salmon, Idaho died during a multiple fatality wildfire incident when they were trapped by fast moving flames on the Cramer Fire.
Another firefighter was seriously burned when he was overcome by fire progress during a prescribed burn project and he died from the injuries a month later.