Question from a Reader

By Bill Carey
29 March 2023

“Can you tell me how many firefighters died during a search in the last six years? My department is writing a search section for a future truck company manual.”

Data from the United States Fire Administration (USFA) about deaths during a search is very broad and sometimes changed without notice in the years following the postings. The most recent example of such a change involves the data gathering for this reader’s question. When I first collected the names and details there were a total of 16 deaths for search in this range. On 23 March one of those deaths had the activity type changed from Search to Pump Operations, without notice [1]. It was only by double-checking the names that the change was noticed.

Out of the currently 15 on-duty deaths for this period, eight involve firefighters killed in six incidents while inside a burning structure searching for occupants. Here is the breakdown.

Berwick, ME. Firefighters at an apartment fire searching the third floor for a person trapped, the report included in initial dispatch. Captain and firefighter become trapped and the captain uses his body to shield the firefighter from the flames. NIOSH report pending.
Christopher, IL. Firefighter is caught in a stairway collapse while withdrawing from the building, during a search for victims inside an abandoned commercial building. NIOSH report.
Worcester, MA. Lieutenant, and firefighter become trapped by fire while searching the third floor of a multi-family structure for a missing child. The lieutenant is unable to follow the firefighter in a bailout from the floor. NIOSH report.

Porterville, CA | Porterville, CA. Captain, and firefighter enter a burning library to search for a handicapped person inside. The report that the person was out was not relayed to the captain and firefighter. NIOSH report.

Wyanoka, OK | Wyanoka, OK. Chief and firefighter search for two people trapped inside a burning home. Roof collapse kills all. No report is pending.
Spring Valley, NY. Firefighter becomes disoriented and trapped while searching for occupants during a fire in an assisted-living facility. No report is pending.

Cause/Nature of Death
Berwick, ME. Caught or Trapped/Other
Christopher, IL. Collapse/Asphyxiation
Worcester, MA. Caught or Trapped/Burns
Porterville, CA.  Out of Air/Asphyxiation
Wyanoka, OK. Collapse/Crushed
Spring Valley, NY Caught or Trapped/Asphyxiation


  1. Stephen A. Feron. The USFA initially had the activity type Search. On 23 March 2023 the page was updated, changing the activity type to Pump Operations. 

Photograph courtesy of Portland Press Herald/YouTube.

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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