NFPA: Firefighter Deaths Increased in 2013

There were 97 firefighter fatalities in 2013 – a sharp increase over the past few years.

The West, Texas explosion, the Yarnell Hill wildfire and Houston building fire which claimed 32 firefighters led to trauma and crushing injuries as the top cause of death, according to Dr. Rita Fahy, NFPA’s manager of fire databases and systems.

Fahy released the annual report Wednesday morning during the NFPA annual conference in Las Vegas.

The largest share of deaths last year – 56 -- occurred while firefighters were operating on the ground. This is the highest number of fire ground deaths since 1999 (excluding the deaths at the World Trade Center in 2001). Half of them occurred among 10 wildland fires.

“Overall, firefighter death rates have declined in recent years. In fact, 2012 represented the second lowest level of firefighter deaths in 35 years,” said Dr. Rita Fahy, NFPA’s manager of fire databases and systems. “What we saw in 2013 was a spike due to two major incidents, with wildfires playing a significant role in the overall firefighter death toll.

”The leading cause of death last year -- 32 -- was internal trauma due to the nature of the injuries – the explosion  and a  building fire. Sudden cardiac deaths were cited in 29 cases, and burns killed 24, according to Fahy’s research.  

The other major category of fatal injury was asphyxiation or smoke inhalation, with eight deaths.

The firefighters who died in 2013 ranged in age from 19 to 76, with a median age of 40 years.

Statistics also showed that 17 firefighters died in vehicle-related incidents, including 10 firefighter who died in vehicle crashes. Six other firefighters were struck and killed by vehicles, and one firefighter fell to his death when his parachute failed to open during a proficiency jump.

Five of the nine killed in roadway wrecks were not wearing seat belts, the report showed.

Six personnel lost their lives after being hit by vehicles at incident scenes, seven were killed during training exercises, and one firefighter committed suicide in their station.

“This was the fifth consecutive year that the total number of firefighter deaths was below 100, but the 2013 death toll was much higher than it has been in recent years,” said Fahy. “Our hope is that next year’s report reflects the general decline in firefighter deaths we’ve seen in the past few years.”