A closer look at reported fatality data
By Bill Carey
Originally published 16 January 2017.
The year 2016 ended with a total of 89 firefighter on-duty deaths as defined and recorded by the United States Fire Administration (USFA). This total number is slight decrease from the 2015 total (90) and a large decrease in the number accorded to the activity type not seen since 2010. It is also a number that is rarely seen and a subject rarely discussed due in large part to fear, hype and ignorance surrounding our fatality information.
A total of 89 firefighter fatalities occurred last year. This grand total can be pared down to a more realistically operational value if we subtract the 16 fatalities listed due to the Hometown Heroes Act. A further breakdown of the total is as follows:
Wildland (full-time, part-time, contract): 10
18 of these 89 firefighters died on the scene of an emergency incident involving a fire of some type, as recorded by the USFA. 14 occurred at a structure fire. The cause and nature of the deaths of the 89 is listed in the following categories:
Cause of Death
Nature of Death
Out of Air: 1
Out of the 89 fatalities, nine firefighters died while ‘Advancing Hoselines’ including wildland last year. This nine is a very small number that can be realized even smaller when we learn more about the details.
Here are the reported details of those nine who died in the activity type reviewed:
California, 26 February
Inmate firefighter struck by rock during wildfire
Tennessee, 17 April
Career lieutenant collapsed during a residential structure fire
North Carolina, 30 April
Volunteer firefighter caught/trapped during commercial structure fire
Vermont, 5 May
Volunteer firefighter succumbed days later to a heart attack during a brush fire
Missouri, 24 July
Volunteer firefighter suffered cardiac arrest during a vehicle fire
New Hampshire, 24 July
Volunteer firefighter suffered a fatal medical emergency during a brush fire
California, 26 July
Dozer operator killed in rollover during a wildfire
Montana, 13 August
Wildland firefighter struck by tree during a wildfire
Kentucky, 17 November
Volunteer firefighter struck by tree during a wildfire
Five volunteer firefighters and four career firefighters (including wildland positions) make up this nine. Rank structure, minus wildland, is one officer and five firefighters among the deceased. There were zero career ‘firefighter’ fatalities listed as ‘advancing hoselines’ in 2016. The average age of the victims is 40. The youngest is 20 and the oldest is 58.
With regard to the majority cause and nature of on-duty deaths, the breakdown of those related to ‘advancing hoselines’ is presented
Cause of Death
Nature of Death
‘Blank’ is new from the USFA. While neither heart attack, cardiac arrest nor stress/overexertion the narrative of these does mention those medical emergencies. Since blank is not tallied as is ‘Other’ and ‘Unknown’ those deaths will not appear in current total USFA reporting for 2016.They are simply kept absent from the larger figures in cause and nature of death.
The average age and other specifics related to the fatalities (four of the nine) involving a medical emergency (including ‘blank’) is 44. The youngest is 53 and the oldest is 58. One was a career lieutenant. The remaining three were volunteer firefighters.
The majority of the nine incidents involved the following fireground types:
Brush Fire: 2
Vehicle Fire: 1
Structure Fire: 2
Commercial Structure: 1
Residential Structure: 1
As presented in previous writings on the subject, it is important to go back to the incident details and reporting to make the determination if the victims suddenly died while operating inside a burning structure or if they were stricken while on the outside or succumbed to related causes and natures at a later time. In 2016 the two firefighters who died while advancing hoselines at a structure fire died while inside the structure. That number, two out of nine, two out of 89, is a low never seen before since 2010.
2010 – 89 total – 2 killed on interior of burning structure.
2011 – 90 total – 7 killed on interior of burning structure.
2012 – 83 total – 6 killed on interior of burning structure.
2013 – 107 total – 8 killed on interior of burning structure.
2014 – 92 total – 9 killed on interior of burning structure.
2015 – 90 total – 4 killed on interior of burning structure.
The majority of the incidents, wildfire and brush fire, saw ‘Struck by’ and ‘Trauma’ as the leading cause and nature of death.
Inmate Firefighter struck by rock while working at wildfire
Hotshot firefighter struck by dead tree while working at wildfire
Volunteer firefighter struck by tree limb while working at wildfire
Dozer operator killed in rollover while working at wildfire
Volunteer firefighter suffered a heart attack while working at a brush fire
Volunteer firefighter suffered a medical emergency while working at a brush fire
As identified, only two firefighters died while ‘advancing hoselines’ inside a burning structure. One involved a residential structure and the other a commercial structure. One was a career lieutenant the other a volunteer firefighter.
Memphis, Tennessee 17 April
57-year old career lieutenant
At approximately 2345 hours the lieutenant and his crew had extinguished the fire and were looking for host spots, according to local reports, when he collapsed. He was removed to the outside where CPR was begun and transported to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead. USFA lists his cause and nature of death as “Unknown”. There is currently no NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report available for this incident.
Pineville, North Carolina 30 April
20-year old volunteer firefighter
Shortly after 2100 hours the victim and his fire department responded to a commercial structure fire in a strip mall. The incident evolved into a three-alarm fire. During the incident the victim was reportedly found in some type of distress and removed from the building during a mayday and transported to a hospital. At a press conference on 2 May the Mecklenburg County Assistant Fire Marshall stated that the victim died as a result of “inhaling products of combustion.” A timeline of the incident was also provided:
2130 hrs. Police department respond to alarm at strip mall and reported smoke showing from the building when they arrived
2106 hrs. Fire department dispatched
2110 hrs. Fire department arrived on scene and began suppression operations
2135 hrs. Mayday declared
2143 hrs. Down firefighters (total of three) recovered and removed from building
2145 hrs. Victim transported to hospital where he later succumbed to his injuries
Local news reports that followed indicate the victim may have become separated from other firefighters and lost inside the fire building. Audio recording of the incident also leads to that speculation. There were no reports from officials involved about PPE use and malfunction. Seven months later the state department of labor fined the victim’s fire department for four violations.
Not implementing a specific respiratory protection program
Not remaining in visual or voice contact with the victim during interior structural firefighting
Not providing at least two firefighters on the outside of the IDLH atmosphere to provide assistant or emergency rescue
Not providing or using the required OSHA forms or equivalent for three years
There is currently no NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation Report available for this incident.
89 on-duty deaths recorded in 2016. Of those 89, nine involved victims whose activity type at time of incident is ‘Advancing Hoselines’ and of those nine only two died while inside a burning structure. None of the victims died as a result of fire behavior or the result of a building collapse of some type. The building type for each victim involved a residential structure and a commercial structure and each was without any reported rescue of occupants. Neither was an abandoned property. The remaining seven fatalities while ‘advancing hoselines’ occurred at incidents other than a structure fire.
 Firefighter Fatalities reported in the United States in 2016, USFA
 Firefighter Fatalities while Advancing Hoselines (including Wildland) in 2016, USFA
 Rodney Eddins, Memphis Fire Department, USFA
 “Memphis Firefighter Dies after Fire”, FirefighterNation.com, April 18, 2016
 Richard Sheltra, Pineville-Morrow Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue, Inc., USFA
 “Official Announces North Carolina Firefighter’s Nature of Death” FirefighterNation, May 2, 2016
 “Pineville Fire Department fined after investigation of firefighter’s death” Savannah Lewis, WCNC, November 16, 2016
Photograph courtesy of the author.
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