102 Firefighters Lost Lives On Duty in 2002

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.

Six of these deaths were the result of three separate aircraft crashes. Another three wildland firefighters died near Happy Camp, California when their crew-cab pickup equipped with a 500-gallon water tank left the roadway and rolled 800 feet down a steep slope. Heather DePaolo, Steven Oustad and John Self were killed and two other firefighters were injured.

The other wildland firefighter deaths occurred when one firefighter fell off the back of a firefighting vehicle into the fire, and another suffered injuries when a tree fell and struck him while he was cutting hazardous trees. Another firefighter was riding in a cage on the front bumper of a brush truck with a hose to fight the flames, when another vehicle struck the truck due to low visibility, causing the firefighter to fall out of the cage and under the wheels of the apparatus.

There were 15 deaths due to motor vehicle accidents that occurred in apparatus or firefighters' personal vehicles during emergency responses, up from 11 of these deaths in 2001.

Five of these firefighters died in a single accident. Five wildland firefighters were killed and six others were injured when their van left the roadway and rolled over several times while on Interstate 70 in western Colorado, as the crew traveled from Oregon to Colorado to fight the Hayman fire, the largest fire in Colorado state history. The wreck took the lives of firefighters Bartholomew Bailey, 20, Jake Martindale, 20, Daniel Rama, 28, Retha Mae Shirley, 19 and Zachary Zigich, 18.

In addition to those killed in motor vehicle accidents, six firefighters were killed in separate incidents when they were struck by passing vehicles. Three of these firefighters were killed as they assisted at the scenes of separate motor vehicle accidents. Another was struck and killed at the scene of an accident by an arriving piece of fire apparatus that had lost it's brakes. Another firefighter was killed at a training drill when an impaired driver crossed through road barriers and struck him as he was reeling up hose.

Junior Firefighter Christopher Kangas, 14, was struck by a vehicle while responding on his bicycle to a fire incident. He died from his injuries a few hours later and became possibly the youngest firefighter ever to die in the line of duty in the U.S.

Five firefighters were killed due to training accidents in 2002. Four firefighters were killed during training accidents in 2001, and eight in 2000. This does not include heart attacks suffered during training.

A rookie and a lieutenant died together in a high profile training incident in July. Dallas Begg and John Mickel of Osceola County Fire-Rescue in Florida were killed during a live-fire training exercise. Both died from burns and smoke inhalation after a possible flashover, officials said.

Another firefighter was struck and killed by fire apparatus during a training incident related to extinguishing aircraft type fires, one firefighter drowned while participating in water rescue training, and another died of heat exposure while jogging back to the training academy facility after jogging and performing calisthenics.

Four firefighters died under circumstances outside the usual categories.

Chief Louis Jones of Roswell, New Mexico received a gunshot wound to the head from a burn victim he tried to assist at the scene of a house explosion. After 10 days in the hospital he succumbed to complications resulting from the injury.

One firefighter, Joseph Michael Tynan, Jr., succumbed to complications from a head injury he suffered almost 20 years ago when he fell from a piece of apparatus while responding to an alarm. Another firefighter was overcome by toxic fumes while trying to rescue a worker at a feed mill who had fallen face down into a soybean molasses vat, and another was struck by an errant fireworks shell and died the following day.

Five firefighters died of illness or undetermined causes while on duty.

According to the USFA, there was a total of nine multiple-fatality incidents in 2002 that claimed a total of 25 firefighters, and there were 77 single firefighter fatality incidents. The USFA shows there were 37 deaths among career firefighters in 2002, and 65 deaths among volunteer, seasonal, and part-time firefighters. Ten of the 65 were seasonal or part-time wildland firefighters.

While the youngest firefighter to die on duty in 2002, or possibly ever, was 14-year-old Christopher Kangas, the oldest to die on duty in 2002 was Fire Police Captain Harold Coons, Jr., 76. Coons was assisting with traffic and the set up of a medevac landing zone at the scene of a major traffic accident when he collapsed and died from an apparent heart attack. The youngest firefighter to die in 2001 was eighteen-year-old Karen L. Fitzpatrick, who was overcome with several of her crew members by the Thirty Mile Fire. The oldest firefighters to die in 2001 were three 78 year-olds.

Six women died in the line of duty in 2002, compared to five in 2001 and three in 2000.

Firehouse.com News will publish the official USFA report on firefighter deaths in 2001 when it becomes available.

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