Snapshot: On-Duty Deaths 65 and Older

A look at those 65 and older answering calls

Bill Carey
31 August 2021

Updated 6 September.

The United States Fire Administration announced the 79th on-duty death of a firefighter today. The fallen firefighter was 72 years old.

The issue of active elderly firefighters has always been a subject that has pointed to more problems than solutions. On the career side it usually brings up an unknown number of firefighters that while on the downhill side of age are usually quite fit and healthy, although fit and healthy are not usually explained. There’s also the retirement age as well.

On the volunteer side the retort is usually one of defiance similar to “I’ll give you my nozzle when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” The attitude of service runs strong and should. If you are demonstrably and certifiably healthy and fit why not continue to run calls? The problem is that many are not and the excuse to not do something boils down to staffing. The senior senior man is the only driver around during the daytime and you can’t tell him that it’s time to step back.

He’ll get a good funeral though.

For the purpose of data details I note ‘elderly’ as 65-years-old and older each year. Here are the numbers for 2021 to date.

Career (including Paid-On-Call): 4

  • Chief, 67, due to COVID-19
  • Chief, 65, due to COVID-19
  • Chief, 69, due to a heart attack after a cancelled call
  • Chief, 67, due to COVID-19

Volunteer: 10

  • Firefighter, 80, due to heart attack after training
  • Chief, 79, due to COVID-19
  • Captain, 72, due to heart attack after shed fire
  • Firefighter, 78, due to heart attack at third wildfire call
  • Firefighter, 70, due to cardiac arrest during a live burn
  • Lieutenant, 65, due to a fall while suffering a medical emergency
  • Firefighter, 68, due to COVID-19
  • Firefighter, 65, due to being struck by apparatus
  • Chief, 72, due to heart attack at wildfire
  • Firefighter, 73, stricken at home six hours after call.

It is easy to tell volunteer departments that the solution is to up their recruitment and retention game. It is harder to step aside knowing no one else is going to come.

Photograph courtesy of 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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