In terms of data, the fireground has been relatively safe so far
A total of 51 firefighters died on-duty deaths in the first half of 2017 per data from the United States Fire Administration (USFA). This first six months has 20 more firefighter fatalities than the same period in 2016. As of writing the U.S. fire service has 10 more fatalities total than the same period in 2016. A detailed review of our first half of this year reveals that deaths that are a direct part of interior firefighting (fire attack, search, and ventilation) are currently down while those involving vehicles are up and trending to pass last year. Vehicle Collision was tied with ‘Unknown’ as the leading cause of firefighter fatalities in 2016. If we add this year’s numbers from the cause of death category ‘Struck By’ that are also related to vehicles we see an additional increase of firefighter fatalities in 2017 as compared to 2016. Seven out of 10 firefighters struck by an object and killed in the first half of this year were struck by a vehicle. In 2016 only one firefighter died in the first half of the year because of being struck by a vehicle. The following information is a look at all our first half of 2017 firefighter fatalities.
Department, Age, Rank
26 volunteer firefighters died in the first six months of this year compared to 24 career firefighters. Included as career are part-time, paid on call, and contractual positions. The average age of the deceased is 52. Currently victims between the ages of 51 and 60 make up 38.6% of this year’s firefighter fatalities. Nine of the 51 victims in the first half were 65 years of age or older. The youngest fatality in the same period was 29 years of age; the oldest was 83. A total of two were in their eighties and three were in their seventies. Not surprising, firefighters make up most the fatalities per rank followed by chief officers and company officers.
Battalion or District: 3
Probationary, Recruit or Trainee: 1
Among fire chiefs, volunteers were the majority who died. Their average age is 53; the oldest was 73 and the youngest 44. The career fire chief that died in this period was 55 years old. Incidents involving vehicles claimed half of the fire chiefs in this period. One was killed in a crash (non-emergency) and two were struck by vehicles while working at an incident.
Nature of Death
Unknown and Trauma led the category of Nature of Death. Unknown, those fatalities of a probable cardiac nature or a nature not known until determined by further investigation, led with 23. Trauma followed with 17. We can break the Trauma data down further:
Vehicle Crash: 7
Struck by: 7
Of the vehicle crashes, four involved department apparatus or vehicles and three involved privately owned vehicles. Among the department apparatus, two of those occurred during an emergency response and two occurred as the operator was conducting department business. Fatalities involving privately owned vehicles involved only one during an emergency response in which the victim was struck by a hit-and-run driver. The other two involve a crash while on department business and a crash while returning home after an emergency call. Trauma by Fall involved training and aerial or tower ladders in this sub-category. Only one occurred during firefighting, the victim falling from the bucket of a tower ladder while either stepping onto or off the roof of a residential structure fire. During training one firefighter fell from an aerial ladder and another firefighter fell during a live burn. Note in the live burn incident the victim suffered a fractured leg. Eighteen days later he had trouble breathing and went into cardiac arrest. An autopsy revealed a pulmonary embolism that was attributed to the leg fracture and recovery complications.
It should be noted that among Stuck by, one of the seven was killed by apparatus backing up. The victim was a spotter for fire apparatus that was backing up to block the roadway and protect the scene of a motor vehicle accident.  Another was killed after being struck by a hose coupling while on the scene of structure fire.
31 of the 51 fatalities (60.7%) in the first half of 2017 did not involve emergency duty. Seven of the 51 died related to a structure fire incident. Five involved residential structures and two involved commercial structures.
2: Victim collapsed on the fireground
1: Victim died several hours after fire
1: Victim fell from tower ladder/roof
1: Victim struck by hose coupling
1: Victim died from injuries sustained in building collapse (2013 incident)
1: Victim caught in building collapse during search
When I write and discuss on-duty deaths involving vehicles I place them in a larger category than the USFA simply for discussion about vehicles. Whether the victim drove it, rode it, or was struck by it, they are all in the data presented. Any exceptions to this, as learned in the incident information, are noted as well.
Seven firefighters died as a result of a vehicle collision that occurred while responding to an emergency call, returning from an emergency call, or while conducting department business. Four involved fire department apparatus and three involved personally owned vehicles.
Responding: 1 (struck by hit-and-run driver)
Returning: 1 (MVA while returning home)
Other: 1: (MVA while posting fundraising flyers)
Responding: 2 (1, responding to structure fire; ejected); (1, responding to field fire; ejected)
Other: 2 (1, struck by vehicle while on department business); (1, traveling to training; ejected)
It may be important to note that all three fatalities involving ejection occurred in fire department apparatus, two of which while responding to an emergency.
Seven out of the 10 victims struck by something in the first half of 2017 were struck by vehicles. The majority occurred at the scene of an accident or property damage type of incident and three involved the victims directing traffic. One of the seven was struck and killed by fire apparatus backing up. It is reported that the victim was the spotter.
Deaths During Firefighting Operations
Firefighting Operations are those involving the USFA categories ‘Advancing Hoselines (including Wildland)’, ‘Search and Rescue’, and ‘Ventilation’. A total of 11 firefighter fatalities (21%) are in these categories and can be broken down further for better understanding.
Collapsed on the Scene: 2
Injured during Training: 1
Search and Rescue
Heart Attack during Training: 1
Caught in Collapse during Commercial Structure Fire: 1
Fall from Tower Ladder/Building Roof: 1
Four out of 51, or 7.8%, of the firefighter fatalities from January to June 2017 involved working a hoseline, searching for a victim, or working on the roof of a structure. If we only count traumatic deaths, the percentage drops to 3.9%.
The loss of a firefighter is always a sorrowful moment, whether they suffered a traumatic death while fighting fire or passed away in the peace and quietness of their home several hours after an emergency call. The definitions of our terminology regarding firefighting and line of duty death as well as the window of inclusion offered by the Hometown Heroes Act literally prevent the U.S. fire service from having a zero fatalities year. This gives us data that must be explored in depth to be properly understood and discussed. As we move more into the second half of 2017 the details of the firefighter fatalities from the first half are made plain:
- 51 total on-duty deaths
- Deaths involving vehicles are on the rise
- Nearly 61% of the deaths did not involve emergency duty
- Nearly 4% involved traumatic death while directly involved in firefighting operations
- Zero firefighters killed because of disorientation
- Zero firefighters killed while performing vertical ventilation (collapse)
- Zero firefighters killed in an abandoned building
This year and previous years’ attention across the national fire service is directed toward deaths involving cancer, suicide, fire behavior and the likes. Certainly, the efforts to educate us are leading toward examinations of better practices ranging from personal responsibility to department operations. As these efforts receive our endorsement we must balance them with the tried and true preventive measures we know from the past. Safe vehicle operations, seat belt awareness and enforcement, and the need to have members in the best physical health possible go together with the newness of air entrainment by nozzles, effects of fire attack on ventilation, and cancer wipes.
We are not dying in any new way. The same natures and causes claim us today as they have done centuries ago. However, understanding the details helps us see progress (4 out of 51 fighting a fire) and cause for alarm (14 out of 51 involving vehicles, 3 involving being ejected). What we put our attention towards regarding firefighter fatalities is where we will focus our preventive efforts, but the attention really cannot be narrowed in any way. We must be continually looking at all aspects of our fatalities or we will miss the areas of progress and, more importantly, the areas of growing trouble.
 Vehicle Collision including aircraft accounted for 25.9% of the total or 14 out of 89. United States Fire Administration, 2016.
 A career firefighter in Hawaii died during rescue watercraft training on 16 June 2016. United States Fire Administration
 William Tolley, Fire Department New York, 20 April. United States Fire Administration
 Kelly Wong, Los Angeles Fire Department, 3 June 2017. United States Fire Administration
 William F. Gerace, Gibbsboro Fire Company No.1, 10 April 2017. United States Fire Administration
 Roger Dale Johns, Eagle Rock Volunteer Fire and Rescue, 19 May 2017. United States Fire Administration
 Darrell Lavon Plank, Macon County Fire Rescue, 20 May 2017. United States Fire Administration
Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Fire Group, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service as a third generation firefighter in 1986 on the eastern shore of Maryland and then continued after moving to Prince George’s County. He served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville. Bill’s writing has been on Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, and other sites. His recent writing on firefighter behavioral health was nominated for a 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.