NFPA Reports 64 On-Duty Firefighter Deaths in 2018

Overexertion, stress, and medical issues accounted for by far the largest share of deaths. While cardiac-related events have accounted for 44 percent of the on-duty deaths over the past 10 years, 2018 represents the third consecutive year they were below 30.

The National Fire Protection Association released its annual "U.S. Firefighter Fatalities in the United States" report on June 19. It showed a total of 64 U.S. firefighter fatalities occurred while on duty during 2018, marking the eighth time in the past 10 years that fewer than 70 on-duty deaths have occurred. The 2018 total is half what it was during the first five years that NFPA conducted this study.

The 64 fatalities included 34 volunteer firefighters, 25 career firefighters, four firefighters who were employees or contractors for federal or state land management agencies, and one prison inmate. There were 25 deaths at fires in 2018, with the largest share in structure fires (13), followed by wildland (10), a vehicle fire, and a gas main explosion. And 11 of the deaths resulted from road crashes.

Sudden cardiac deaths caused about 40 percent of the on-duty fatalities. The number of firefighters who were struck and killed by vehicles fell from 10 in 2017 to three in 2018; also, there was one murder of a firefighter responding to a fire call.

According to NFPA, overexertion, stress, and medical issues accounted for by far the largest share of deaths. While cardiac-related events have accounted for 44 percent of the on-duty deaths over the past 10 years, 2018 represents the third consecutive year they were below 30.

"While the total number of on-duty firefighter deaths has been decreasing over the years, we continue to see many of the same overall results, with the leading causes of these fatalities tending to be cardiac deaths and crash deaths," said Rita Fahy, manager in NFPA's Applied Research division. She said while it's encouraging to see the overall number of on-duty firefighter fatalities continue to remain relatively low compared to previous years, the full firefighter fatality picture is far broader than NFPA's data. "This report reflects only the deaths that occur while victims are on the job, either as the result of traumatic injuries or onset of acute medical conditions," said Fahy. "Studies have shown that years spent in the fire service can take a toll on a firefighter's health, both physical and emotional, and can also result in exposures to toxins that eventually result in job-related cancer, cardiac, and suicide deaths that are not represented in this report."

The study is made possible by the cooperation and assistance of the U.S. fire service, NIOSH, the U.S. Fire Administration, the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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