The number of firefighters killed across America last year continued downward for the third straight year.
Statistics compiled by the USFA showed there were 81 firefighters killed on duty in 2011. Of those, 19 were classified as Hometown Heroes.
The number of deaths is the lowest since the USFA started keeping statistics in 1977.
Those killed included 49 volunteers, 27 career, three wildland and one paid on-call.
In 2010, there were 85 firefighter deaths.
In 2003, federal legislation was adopted that firefighters who died of heart attacks or strokes within 24 hours of a response or training receive a designation of Hometown Hero.
Records compiled showed heart attacks continue to be the leading cause of deaths, claiming at least 44 last year. That number may rise as some autopsy reports have not been completed.
January and June were the deadliest months with 14 and 12 deaths respectively, while one firefighter was killed in March and two in October.
There were three incidents in which more than one firefighter was killed, the records showed.
Statisticians also noted that 29.3 percent of the fatalities occurred in people under 40. Twenty-five of those killed were between 41 and 50, and 25 were between 51 and 60.
USFA Ernest Mitchell Jr. told Firehouse.com recently he is pleased with the downward trend.
"We will remain vigilant in the way we operate, and that includes the increasing focus on firefighter health and safety. We have come a long way, but there is still so much to do. We've been fortunate that there have been fewer firefighter deaths the past few years."
Driver education training and the use of seat belts are important to keep the number of injuries and deaths down.
"I know it's been said a lot, but we can't be of help, if we don't get there."
Vehicle collisions claimed four firefighters last year.
One of the USFA goals is to reduce the number of firefighter fatalities by 25 percent in five years, and 50 percent in 10.
Upon learning the numbers on Tuesday, Mitchell said in a statement: “In 2004 at the initial Life Safety Summit, a number of fire service leaders did not believe we would complete a calendar year with less than 100 firefighter on-duty deaths. We broke through that perceived barrier in 2009, 2010, and now in 2011!
" We salute and congratulate our fire service family and pledge to continue working closely with the entire fire service community and its partners to maintain and even accelerate this downward trend in on-duty firefighter deaths.”