Eight members of the fire service died while on duty
The following information is a breakdown of the details of those members in the fire service who died while operating “on-duty” as defined by the United States Fire Administration. For more information on this definition and that of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s definition of “line of duty death” read “On Duty & Line of Duty: What Is the Difference?” The information presented is not meant to distract from the emotional toll felt by the families and coworkers. It is instead meant to remind us to look greater at the record of fatalities and in comparison to previous years as well as be a measure of substance when used in discussions.
Eight fatalities were recorded for the month of January. This is five more than those in 2013 and equal to that of 2012. There was one multiple fatality incident in January that claimed the lives of two victims . A news report for this incident contained a statement from the fire chief of deteriorating conditions . It should be noted that the USFA records being caught in a flashover or similar thermal event under “Caught/Trapped”; for greater discussion this category is broken down in the data below.
Heart attack was the leading cause of nature of death for the month claiming five victims. The average age of those is 58. The nature of death for the two Toledo firefighters is listed as “unknown” by the USFA although their nature of deaths could be assumed to be thermal burns, respiratory burns or such based on the news reports. The NIOSH fatality investigation will provide the specific nature when it is released.
Four of the eight victims died on the fireground as far as definition of activity type during time of death. Only two of those victims lost their lives while operating inside a burning structure, those from Toledo. One of the remaining two died while operating as the incident commander at a grass fire which extended to a residential structure. The 53-year career fire chief suffered a heart attack and died at the hospital. The other fatality involved an industrial firefighter investigating an alarm. The 57-year old victim suffered cardiac arrest during the incident and passed away at the hospital.
Only one death is related to vehicle operations. A 34-year old pilot working as a part-time wildland firefighter was killed in plane crash. His plane went down during a regularly scheduled flight to detect fires and was not found until two weeks later. The latest related news report states that the investigation continues to look into the cause of the crash .
Because of personal interpretations (and emotions) of the official definition of on-duty death as well as the Hometown Hero Act  there has always been discussion in the fire service of what is outside of the “traditional” line of duty death. As far as breaking down the data here I define traditional deaths as those strictly involved in either the response to the alarm, working on the scene and returning from the alarm. Those not considered in that definition are not to be interpreted as any lesser a tragedy or loss. As stated at the introduction, this is meant to give a more detailed look into those numbers reported and talked about in general each year. In some of these deaths, additional related reporting provides more details than what the USFA offers in their announcement.
One such example is the first on-duty death of 2014. The victim, a 59-year old volunteer firefighter, had responded to an alarm that required a fire detail or fire watch in inclement weather. The watch reportedly ran 16 hours in freezing temperatures. The USFA report states that the victim suffered a heart attack while operating a motor vehicle and as such listed his activity type as “Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus”. The broad nature of this type is narrowed down by the local news report that reports the victim was driving home after working the detail .
Three other deaths occurred in 2014 that fall outside of our non-traditional definition. A 62-year old volunteer firefighter suffered a heart attack while preparing fire department boats and the station for a winter storm forecast to come the next day. He died eight days later in the hospital. The second fatality was a 49-year old career firefighter found in cardiac arrest by his coworkers. The final is the pilot killed while working in a wildland capacity. His death involved a crash during a regularly scheduled detection or reconnaissance flight and was not in response to any reported alarm.
Data in Detail
Deaths involving Disorientation: 0
Deaths involving Building Collapse: 0
Deaths involving Flashover, Backdraft, Explosive Incident: 2 (Toledo)
Deaths in 1- and 2-Family Dwellings: 0
Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 2 (Toledo)
Deaths in Educational, Institutional, Commercial and Industrial Occupancies: 0
Deaths in Vacant/Abandoned Structures: 0
Nature of Death
Cerebrovascular Accident: 0
Heart Attack: 5
Cause of Death
Struck by: 0
Vehicle Collision: 0
Average Age: 48
– Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 0
– Volunteer firefighter 19-years old or younger who died responding to alarm or station: 0
(1 victim listed as “Industrial)
(1 victim listed as “Wildland Part-Time)
Fire Chief: 1
Assistant Chief: 0
Battalion Chief: 0
Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0
Department of Defense: 0
Deaths involving lack of seatbelt use: 0
Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 0
Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death
Incident Command: 1
-Brush/Grass or Other Outdoor Fire (excluding Wildland): 1
– Deaths where occupants were known to be out of fire structure: 0
Vent (Roof): 0
Water Supply: 0
On Scene: 1
(1: Victim suffers cardiac arrest while investigating a fire alarm)
Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 0
Death As a Result of EMS Exposure: 0
Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 0
Deaths Which Occurred Outside the “Traditional” Line of Duty Definition: 4
1: Victim suffers heart attack while operating apparatus during 16-hour fire watch
1: Victim suffers heart attack while preparing station for winter weather
1: Victim found in cardiac arrest at station
1: Victim killed in crash while on regularly planned flight
Department of Defense, Military fire-service LODDs: 0
Deaths Linked to 11 September 2001: 0
It is always important to reiterate that the discussion of the details in the reporting of these deaths is not meant to diminish the loss. Each number is a person mourned by a family, friends and coworkers. What is intended in this and related writing is that it is important for the fire service to be aware of the details in our on-duty death numbers. Blindly saying that 100 or so firefighters die each year, as well as saying “we’ve lost too many” each time a fatality occurs is turning a blind eye to the data. By understanding the details in the recording we can be more aware of trends, both good and bad, in our efforts to reduce these fatalities.
- “Toledo Firefighters Killed During Apartment Fire” January 26, 2014 FirefighterNation.com
- “Rapidly deteriorating conditions led to deaths of 2 firefighters, officials say” January 27, 2014 Toledo Blade
- “Investigators Working on Cause of AFC Plane Crash” 13 February 2014 ArkansasMatters.com
- For definition and information about the Hometown Hero Survivors Benefit Act read the full text.
- “Cliffside Park firefighter dies on way home from a call” 15 January 2014 Cliffside Park Citizen
Photo courtesy AP Photo/The Blade, Jetta Fraser
Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, LawOfficer.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service, as a third generation firefighter and has served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville, Prince George’s County where he met Chris Hebert and Dave Ianonne, the creators of Firehouse.com. Bill went to work for them back in 2001 and after they transitioned away to new, bigger projects, he was hired by them again in 2009. Bill’s writing has been on Firehouse.com, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, the Jones and Bartlett 2010 edition of “Fire Officer: Principles and Practice”, The Secret List and Tinhelmet.com. His recent writing on firefighter behavioral health has been nominated for 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.