102 Firefighters Lost Lives On Duty in 2002

This is slightly higher death toll than has been recorded in most recent years.


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.