Posted on February 17, 2020 to Blog
United States Firefighter Fatalities in 2018
More than a million individuals act as firefighters in the United States. This includes in excess of 300,000 career firefighters and nearly 800,000 volunteers. Due to the inherent risks involved, firefighting is consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous professions. Looking at the fatalities associated with firefighting in 2018 helps to develop a better understanding of these dangers.
Firefighter Deaths Are On the Decline
The good news is that 2018 figures are lower than ones from prior recent years. According to a report released by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were 64 on-duty firefighter fatalities in 2018. In 2017, 87 firefighters lost their lives. A decade earlier in 2008, 118 firefighters perished.
Twenty-five career firefighters perished in 2018, while 34 volunteer firefighters were fatally injured on the job. The rest of the deaths involved four firefighters who worked with state or federal land management agencies in the United States, and one prison inmate who was performing firefighting duties.
Structure Fires Resulted in the Most Fatalities
There were 25 deaths directly at fires in 2018; most of these involved structure fires involving residential or commercial buildings. Potential dangers associated with structure fires include smoke inhalation and fall risks from weak parts of a structure. Additional fatalities were related to:
- Vehicle fires
- Gas main explosions
- Road crashes related to firefighting duties
Heart-Related Issues Contributed to Many Firefighter Deaths
The NFPA report notes that 40 percent of on-duty fatalities were due to sudden cardiac issues. In fact, the United States Fire Administration states that heart attacks are the top cause of active-duty firefighter deaths.
The number of firefighters struck and killed by vehicles dropped significantly, however, going from 10 in 2017 to three in 2018. Unfortunately, one firefighter was a victim of homicide when responding to a fire in 2018. Firefighter fatalities in 2018 were also associated with:
- Other medical issues
Years of Firefighter Service Can Take a Toll On Health
Time spent fighting fires can take a toll on a a firefighter’s health, one NFPA official noted. For instance, some firefighters eventually succumb to cancer or other causes of death related to exposure to toxins. There’s also the possibility of long-term job-related illnesses, such as chronic coughing, certain types of cancer, respiratory ailments, asthma, and heart disease. Suicide deaths are not included in the NFPA report.
Firefighters are also susceptible to serious injuries, some of which are related to and include smoke inhalation, severe burns, and heat exhaustion. On a positive note, efforts are being made to use technology to help keep firefighters safe with innovations such as powered exoskeleton firefighter suits and the strategic use of firefighter drones in certain situations.