Despite the Boston tragedy, the fireground was once again the exception to where the most victims died.
The following information is a breakdown of the details of those members in the fire service who died while operating “on-duty” as defined by the United States Fire Administration. For more information on this definition and that of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s definition of “line of duty death” read “On Duty & Line of Duty: What Is the Difference?” The information presented is not meant to distract from the emotional toll felt by the families and coworkers. It is instead meant to remind us to look greater at the record of fatalities and in comparison to previous years as well as be a measure of substance when used in discussions.
March ended with the double tragedy of two firefighters killed in Boston but as the data shows, an equal number of firefighters also died in the common activity of training. There were 11 deaths in the month making it the second worst month of the year to date.
Despite the tragic fires in Boston and Toledo, nearly half the on-duty deaths in 2014 were not incident-related. (USFA image)
The average age of the victims in March is 52. The oldest victim was 64 years old, a volunteer captain from Alabama. The youngest victim was 33, a firefighter from Massachusetts. Five volunteers died in March while six career firefighters died including one listed as a “Wildland Full-Time” employee. Among the ranks five firefighters, four line or company officers and two chief officers died this month.
Victims between the ages of 41 and 60 have accounted for most of the on-duty deaths in 2014 to date. (USFA image)
The only multi-fatality incident is also the only direct fireground activity incident, as far as reporting in the manner of data dissection. Two Boston firefighters died while participating in the fire attack in a multi-family dwelling. One victim was assigned to an engine company, the other a ladder company, and both are listed by USFA data as “Advancing Hoseline/Fire Attack” for their deaths’ Activity Type. Their cause of fatal injury is listed as “Caught or Trapped”. So far the fire service has only experienced two multi-fatality incidents in 2014, each claiming two victims.
The deaths in Boston, while the investigation is nowhere near complete, are listed in the data below as involving a flashover or similar type of sudden fire behavior event simply based on the various news reports containing descriptions of the fire and quotes from fire department officials relating the same.
Residential structure fires claimed more victims than commercial structure fires in the first quarter of the year. Four deaths occurred in apartment buildings while only one occurred in a restaurant. Keep in mind, however, that those residential structure fires were also the multi-fatality incidents previously mentioned.
Training claimed three victims in March. A career line officer from Alaska collapsed while participating in “Rules of Air Management” training. The nature of the 51-year old victim’s death is yet to be reported. In Arizona a 61-year old volunteer line officer collapsed while participating in a Wildland Pack Test. He later passed away at the hospital due to a heart attack. The third training death is related to that activity type per the USFA data, but the narrative reads differently. A 43-year old Michigan fire chief was participating in “pumper training” when he fell ill. The next day he attended a class where he suffered a heart attack and died later at a hospital. While the activity type is related, his death is different than the others when considering the reported specifics.
March was a good month for a decline of victims due to vehicle collisions, as we would think they are defined, however one death is listed in this manner this month. A 57-year old Pennsylvania firefighter was killed after he was struck by a train during the search for a missing person. His nature of death is listed as “Vehicle Collision – Includes Aircraft” which is technically correct, however a reader can easily assume without reading further and believe it to be a vehicle/response crash. This is just one example of where it certainly pays for us to read deeply into the data presented with each end of year report.
Five deaths occurred that are outside our “traditional” definition of line of duty deaths. Four victims died several hours after an emergency response, two due to heart attacks and two due to causes yet to be reported (Unknown). The other death is that of the previously mentioned Michigan fire chief during training.
More firefighters continue to die away from the fireground than on the fireground. (USFA image)
On a whole, and in deeper reading, the first quarter of the year has seen relatively few deaths directly on the fireground when compared to the other deaths reported. Only five of the 33 victims reported died while actively participating in firefighting operations inside, or on top of, a burning building. While every death is a tragic loss, when we speak of the reduction of these deaths in numbers we should take note of the decreases in any area.
(Number in parentheses is YTD as of posting)
Deaths involving Disorientation: 0
Deaths involving Building Collapse: 0
Deaths involving Flashover, Backdraft, Explosive Incident: 2 (4) (Toledo – 2) (Boston – 2)
Boston “became trapped by fire conditions”
Deaths in 1- and 2-Family Dwellings: 0
Deaths in Multi-Family Dwellings: 2 (4) (Toledo - 2) (Boston – 2)
Deaths in Educational, Institutional, Commercial and Industrial Occupancies: 0 (New Jersey) (1)
1: Fall from roof of restaurant while performing ventilation (New Jersey)
Deaths in Vacant/Abandoned Structures: 0
Multi-Fatality Incidents: 1 (2)
Boston, MA: 2 victims
Toledo, OH: 2 victims
Nature of Death
Burns: 2 (2)
Cerebrovascular Accident: 0 (1)
Crushed: 0 (1)
Heart Attack: 5 (17)
Not Stated: 1 (1)
Other: 0 (1)
Trauma: 1 (4)
Unknown: 2 (5)
Cause of Death
Assault: 0 (1)
Caught/Trapped: 2 (4)
Fall: 0 (3)
Stress/Overexertion: 6 (19)
Struck by: 0 (1)
Vehicle Collision: 1 (2)
1: Victim struck by train while searching for missing person
Unknown: 2 (2)
Average Age: 52
- Firefighters 65 years old or older at time of death: 0 (2)
- Volunteer firefighter 19-years old or younger who died responding to alarm or station: 0
Volunteer: 5 (19)
Career: 6 (17)
(1 victim listed as Wildland Full-Time)
Fire Chief: 1 (4)
Assistant Chief: 1 (3)
Battalion Chief: 0
Captain: 2 (4)
Lieutenant: 2 (5)
Firefighter: 5 (14)
1: Wildland Full-Time
Firefighter/Ranger/Wildfire Contracted: 0
Pilot: 0 (1)
Driver/Operator/Engineer: 0 (1)
Department of Defense: 0
Chaplain: 0 (1)
Deaths involving lack of seatbelt use: 0
Deaths Involving Apparatus Accidents: 0 (1)
1: Volunteer chief injured in department vehicle crash while responding to MVA; dies 17 days later.
Fireground Assignment/Activity at Time of Death
Incident Command: 0 (1)
(-Brush/Grass or Other Outdoor Fire (excluding Wildland): 1)
Fire Attack: 0 (1)
-Advancing Hoseline: 3 (3)
2: During residential fire (Boston)
(1: During outdoor fire)
Search: 0 (3)
- Deaths where occupants were known to be out of fire structure: 0
(1: Victim killed in secondary collapse while evacuating occupants)
Extrication: 0 (1)
Vent (Roof): 0 (1)
(1: Commercial structure (restaurant))
Pump Operations: 0 (1)
Water Supply: 0
On Scene: 0 (1)
(1: Victim suffers cardiac arrest while investigating a fire alarm)
Driving/Operating Vehicle/Apparatus: 0
Death As a Result of EMS Exposure: 0
Deaths Which Occurred During Training: 3 (3)
1: Victim suffers heart attack related to having attended two training events.
1: Victim collapses during SCBA training and dies
1: Victim suffers cardiac arrest during Wildland Pack Test
Department of Defense, Military fire-service LODDs: 0
Deaths Linked to 11 September 2001: 0
Deaths Which Occurred Outside the “Traditional” Line of Duty Definition: 5 (15)
1: Victim died at home several hours after shift with >1 emergency response
1: Victim felt ill during training; suffered heart attack at another training event next day
1: Victim fell ill and died at home after responding to gas leak
1: Victim died within 24 hours of responding to a MVA
1: Victim suffers heart attack at home several hours after emergency response
It is always important to reiterate that the discussion of the details in the reporting of these deaths is not meant to diminish the loss. Each number is a person mourned by a family, friends and coworkers. What is intended in this and related writing is that it is important for the fire service to be aware of the details in our on-duty death numbers. Blindly saying that 100 or so firefighters die each year, as well as saying “we’ve lost too many” each time a fatality occurs is turning a blind eye to the data. By understanding the details in the recording we can be more aware of trends, both good and bad, in our efforts to reduce these fatalities
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Bill Carey is the online public safety news and blog manager with PennWell Public Safety, or more specifically FireRescue Magazine/FirefighterNation.com, JEMS.com, LawOfficer.com and FireEMSBlogs.com. Bill started in the fire service, as a third generation firefighter and has served as a volunteer sergeant and lieutenant at Hyattsville. Bill’s writing has been on Firehouse.com, Fire Engineering, FireRescue Magazine, FirefighterNation.com, the Jones and Bartlett 2010 edition of “Fire Officer: Principles and Practice”, The Secret List and Tinhelmet.com. His recent writing on firefighter behavioral health has been nominated for 2014 Neal Award for Best Subject-Related Series.