Civilian & Firefighter Fatalities in Residential Buildings, 2017 – 2019

Bill Carey
26 July 2021

In July the United States Fire Administration released a report on civilian fatalities in residential buildings [1] during the time period in the title.

The report stated that an estimated 2,770 civilians died as a result of 1,900 fires in residential buildings. Burns and smoke inhalation were responsible for the majority (89%) of theses deaths followed by smoke inhalation only, and then burns only.

37% of the victims died while trying to escape. 31% died while sleeping. The time of the fires were at their highest between midnight and 3:00 a.m. The majority of these fires also occurred in January, February, March, and December.

(Graphic courtesy of the United States Fire Administration.)

50% of the victims were located in bedrooms, followed by common rooms and then bathrooms.

The report does not give a break down of residential building types but simply includes NFIRS data from section 400 on Property Use to include one- and two-family dwellings to barracks.

Below is a breakdown of the firefighters fatalities involving residential structures, for the same time period.

Firefighter Fatalities

A total of 10 firefighters died in this period, 2017 to 2019, inside or on top of a burning residential structure.

Nine were career firefighters and one was a volunteer firefighter.

Collapse killed five firefighters, and one was killed in a fall, all while working with a hoseline. Two firefighters died while searching for trapped civilians. One was killed in a fall from a tower ladder while trying to access the roof of an apartment building and one died after becoming disorientated while trying to exit a structure.

Advancing Hoselines (excluding Wildland)
Pennsylvania, January 2018. Lieutenant caught in collapse during a fire where occupants were reported to be trapped. One civilian was found deceased at the doorway as firefighters entered. Firefighters were ordered out due to water supply issues but later sent back in due to continued reports of people trapped.

Tennessee, February 2018. Firefighter caught in a roof collapse. After an hour into the incident exterior operations were stopped and firefighters were sent inside to extinguish areas of fire not accessible from the exterior when the collapse occurred.

Maryland, July 2018. Firefighter was caught in a floor collapse during a fire in a large dwelling.

Oklahoma, August 2018. Assistant chief operating inside was killed in a collapse while exiting the structure.

Illinois, March 2019. Captain in the doorway of a walkout basement was struck and killed by debris during a collapse.

Colorado, December 2019. Firefighter attempting to move a hoseline to access fire on the roof of a condo slips and falls off the structure.

Search and Rescue
Maine, March 2019. Captain and another firefighter are trapped by fire while trying to rescue an occupant on the third floor of an apartment building. The captain dies after using his body to protect the other firefighter.

Massachusetts, November 2019. Firefighter dies after being trapped by fire on the third floor of an apartment house while looking for a missing child.

New York, April 2017. Firefighter is thrown from bucket of a tower ladder that had become stuck on the building parapet.

Massachusetts, December 2018. Firefighter dies after becoming disoriented while trying to evacuate from the third floor during a fire in an apartment house.


  1. Civilian Fire Fatalities in Residential Buildings (2017‑2019)” United States Fire Administration, June 2021

Photo courtesy of Matthew LeJune, Unsplash.

Published by Data Not Drama

Data Not Drama is writings that provide a point of critical thought about firefighter fatality data and education, line of duty deaths, and risk. The main focus is to encourage less risk aversion and better knowledge on the subject of firefighter fatalities in firefighters, fire departments, and fire service organizations.

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