The United States Fire Administration announced that 102 firefighters died while on-duty in the United States in 2002, a slightly higher death toll than has been recorded in most recent years.
2001 was the worst year in U.S. history for firefighter deaths because of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, which more than quadrupled the losses that could have been expected that year. Between 1995 and 2000 there was an average of 97 firefighter deaths per year.
The following information is a preliminary look at the data for 2002. While the USFA has announced 102 firefighter on-duty deaths, 97 of these firefighters were listed on the USFA's National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Database as of January 13. While all of these deaths have been confirmed as on-duty deaths by the USFA, some may not be considered line-of-duty deaths. A final, comprehensive analysis of these deaths will be released by the USFA in the coming months. Numbers and interpretation may change as further information becomes available.
Firefighter deaths per year since 1995
1995 - 96
1996 - 95
1997 - 94
1998 - 91
1999 - 112
2000 - 95
2001 - 444
2002 - 102
Causes of Death
Heart attacks were the most common cause of on-duty firefighter deaths in 2002, claiming 31 lives, or nearly one third of the 102 on-duty fatalities. Heart attacks have been a top killer each year studied by the USFA although they were dwarfed in 2001 by the 346 firefighter deaths reported from the collapses at World Trade Center.
The heart attack and cardiac arrest victims included several firefighters in their 20s, and ranged in age from 27 to 76. The average age of the heart attack victims was 51.5. Other years have shown similar numbers. Thirty-four firefighters died of heart attacks in 2001, 30 in 2000 and in 1999 there were 54 deaths in this category.
About half of the firefighters that died on-duty in 2002 died of traumatic injuries, according to the USFA.
After heart attacks, the next leading cause of firefighter deaths in 2002 was traumatic injuries suffered at structure fires, with a total of 19 deaths. Thirteen of these deaths were due to structural collapses that caused injuries or burns.
Of the other six firefighters who died of injuries suffered at structure fires, one died of smoke inhalation, another died of inhalation of toxic and noxious gases, and another suffered an aneurysm as a result of prior traumatic injuries. Another firefighter died from injuries received while working a house fire. The cause of death was listed as burns suffered while caught or trapped, but details remained under investigation.
The remaining two firefighters, Capt. Derek Martin and Capt. Robert Morrison of the St. Louis Fire Department, died while trying to rescue a trapped firefighter inside a burning two-story brick refrigeration company building. However, their colleague found his way out while the two rescuers became trapped and suffered burns.
This incident was one of four multiple-fatality incidents at structure fires.
Another multiple-fatality incident occurred November 25 in Coos Bay, Oregon when Randall E. Carpenter, Jeffery E. Common and Robert Charles (Chuck) Hanners died after an explosion and roof collapse at an auto body shop fire in downtown Coos Bay.
Another three firefighters were killed on July 4 in Gloucester City, NJ when a collapse trapped Thomas G. Stewart, James E. Sylvester and John D. West inside a burning home as they searched for entrapped occupants.
John Ginocchetti and Timothy J. Lynch of Manlius, New York died as they pulled a line into a residence and the kitchen floor collapsed, dropping the two firefighters into the basement where they suffered burns and smoke inhalation.
There were 12 deaths that occurred at wildfires in 2002. According to the USFA, most of the wildland firefighter fatalities occurred in California and Colorado where the fire season was especially severe.