January 2020 On-Duty Deaths


An increase compared to past Januarys

(Bill Carey photo)


The first month of 2020 ended with nine on-duty deaths as defined by the United States Fire Administration. 



This is the highest January total in six years, but only one of the fatalities involves a victim killed inside a burning structure.  Fatalities related to vehicles accounted for almost half (44%) of the total number even considering two fatalities with imprecise data reporting.

Conflict in the presented data also appears in the category of activity types, specifically in Incident Command and Search.

Two volunteer firefighters and seven career firefighters make up the employment data of the January fatalities. Included under career are one paid-on-call and one part-time.  As far as rank, Firefighter leads with four, followed by Fire Chief (2), and then Lieutenant, Engineer, and Fire Marshal at one each.  The youngest victim was 21, the oldest 66.  The average age among the total fatalities is 49.

The leading cause of death is vehicle collision; the leading nature of death is trauma.

Four deaths are related to vehicles, in a wide manner, yet their relationship as mentioned at the beginning is debatable.  Three of them are related to apparatus, the fourth to a personal vehicle.  On 11 January a West Virginia firefighter was killed in an apparatus rollover while responding to a structure fire.  The other two deaths related to apparatus are not so clear.  On 18 January a driver-operator (Engineer) in Alaska was preparing to respond to a fire when he had a heart attack and collapsed.  Despite the apparatus not leaving the firehouse his death activity is listed Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus.  The second is the death of a Connecticut fire marshal was killed while returning from a fire on 19 January.  His personal vehicle (the narrative does not indicate department apparatus) left the road and struck a tree.  His death activity is listed Incident Command.

The final vehicle related fatality was on 31 January when a North Carolina firefighter was killed in a vehicle collision while returning from mandated training.  His death activity is In-Station Duties, despite not being in a station or on station property.

Among fireground fatalities there is only one in the month.  On 5 January a Missouri was killed after being caught in a floor collapse while fighting a residential structure fire.  There are two other fatalities listed in related firefighting activities, yet they are also debatable as far as being in the proper categories.  As stated earlier one death is listed under Incident Command yet was a vehicle collision after a fire.  The other death is listed under Search.  In this a Minnesota fire chief had responded to a call for a vehicle that was submerged in ice.  The day after, 13 January, the victim suffered a heart attack at home and died at the hospital.

Data in Detail

(Number in parentheses is YTD as of posting)

Month: 9 (9)

January 2019: 2; 2018: 5; 2017: 5; 2016: 7; 2015: 6

Hometown Heroes: 1

Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death

Incident Command: 1*

* Victim killed in vehicle collision returning home from fire

Advancing Hoseline: 1

                Residential Structure: 1

                                Structure Collapse (floor): 1

                                First Arriving/First Alarm: 1

Search: 1*

* Victim responded to call for vehicle submerged in ice; died at home next day

Ventilation: 0

Deaths involving Disorientation: 0

Deaths involving Flashover, Backdraft, Explosive Incident: 0

Deaths Involving Residential Structural Collapse during Fire: 1

                Victim inside Structure: 1

                                Victim fell into basement: 1

                                                First Arriving/First Alarm: 1

                Victim outside Structure: 0

Deaths Involving Commercial Structural Collapse during Fire: 0

                Victim inside Structure: 0

                Victim outside Structure: 0

Deaths in 1- and 2-Family Dwellings: 1

Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 0

Deaths in Educational, Institutional, Commercial and Industrial Occupancies: 0

Deaths in Vacant/Abandoned Structures: 0

Deaths where occupants were known/reported to be out of fire structure: 1

Extrication: 0

Pump Operations: 0

Water Supply: 0

Overhaul/Salvage: 0

On Scene: 0

Scene Safety: 0

Support: 0

Vehicle Collision/Driving/Operating (Riding) Vehicle/Apparatus: 4*

                Apparatus: 3*
                * Victim listed as driving/operating apparatus; collapsed while preparing to respond

                * Victim listed as incident command; killed in vehicle collision returning home from fire

                Personal Vehicle: 1

Deaths Involving Lack of Seatbelt Use: 0

                Deaths Involving Apparatus: 2*

                                Engine: 1

                                                Responding: 1

                                                Fire: 1

                                                                Driving: 1

                                                                Riding: 0

                                Engine/Tanker or Tanker: 0

                                Ladder, Tower: 0

                                Rescue: 0

                                Other: 1*

                                                *Fire marshal returning home from fire killed in vehicle collision

Vehicle Related: 1

                Struck at MVA: 1

EMS/Patient Care: 1

                Struck at MVA: 1

                Uncooperative/Combative Patient: 0

                                Assault: 0

                                Shooting: 0

Death as a Result of EMS Exposure: 0

Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 0

Department of Defense, Military fire-service LODDs: 0

Deaths Linked to 11 September 2001: 0

Multi-Fatality Incidents: 0

Cause of Death

Assault: 0

Caught/Trapped: 0

Collapse: 0

Contact With: 0

Exposure: 0

Fall: 1

Lost: 0

Other: 0

Stress/Overexertion: 2

Struck By: 1

                Vehicle: 1

Vehicle Collision: 3

Unknown: 2

Nature of Death

Asphyxiation: 0

Burns: 0

Cerebrovascular Accident: 0

Crushed: 0

Drowning: 0

Electrocution: 0

Exposure: 0

Heart Attack: 2

Not Stated: 0

Other: 0

Trauma: 5

Unknown: 2

Violence: 0

Average Age: 49

                Youngest: 21

                Oldest: 66

                                Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 1

                                Volunteer firefighter 19-years old or younger who died responding to alarm or station: 0

Volunteer: 2

Career: 7

                Paid on Call: 1

                Part-Time: 1


County Fire Coordinator: 0

Fire Chief: 2

Deputy Chief: 0

Assistant Chief: 0

Battalion Chief: 0

Major: 0

Captain: 0

Lieutenant: 1

Sergeant: 0

Safety Officer: 0

Fire Crew Supervisor: 0

Firefighter: 4

Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0

Pilot: 0

Recruit/Trainee: 0

Driver/Operator/Engineer: 1

Fire-Police: 0

Fire Marshal: 1

Department of Defense: 0

Chaplain: 0

Wildland Full-Time: 0

Wildland Part-Time: 0

Deaths Which Occurred Outside the “Traditional” Line of Duty Definition: 6

Victim found unresponsive in firehouse office

Victim died at home day after responding to call fire vehicle under ice

Victim collapsed while preparing to respond to a fire

Victim killed in vehicle collision returning home after fire

Victim found deceased in bunkroom after 24-hour shift

Victim killed in vehicle collision returning home after mandated training

BillCareyBioPicBill Carey is the Online News Manager with Clarion Fire & Rescue Group, specifically FirefighterNation.com and FireRescue Magazine. Bill served as a firefighter, volunteer sergeant, and lieutenant at Hyattsville in Prince George’s County, Maryland. His writing has been in Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation, and other sites. His work on firefighter behavioral health was nominated for a 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.

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