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Emergency Services Ergonomics and Wellness

Download or order the handbook: Emergency Services Ergonomics and Wellness September 2020, 258 pages
  • Chapter 1 /

Firefighter injury statistics overview

The NFPA Survey of Fire Departments for U.S. Fire Experience estimated that in 2017, there were 1,056,200 firefighters in the United States. Of these, 373,600 (35%) were career firefighters, and 682,600 (65%) were volunteer firefighters (Evarts & Stein, 2019). The NFPA, United States Firefighter Injuries 2017, revealed that in 2017, the greatest number of firefighter injuries occurred on the fireground; the most prevalent type of injury was sprain, strain and muscular pain; and the leading cause was overexertion or strain (Evarts & Molis, 2018).

Overview of firefighter injuries for 2017:

  • 42% (24,495) occurred at the fireground.
  • 21% (12,240) occurred at non-fire emergency incidents.
  • 16% (9,165) occurred during other on-duty activities.
  • 14% (8,380) occurred during training activities.
  • 8% (4,555) occurred while responding to or returning from an incident.

Since the 1980s, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of annual fireground injuries — almost 50%. However, the rate of injury per fire has not shown any consistent downward trend, as the number of fire incidents has also decreased almost 50% since the 1980s. Successful measures have been taken to reduce fire prevalence over the years; however, firefighter injury rates remain significant.

Firefighters face some very obvious dangers during the course of their work, including:

  • Direct contact with fire.
  • Direct contact with and handling of hazardous chemicals.
  • Encountering excessive heat.
  • Responding to and from incidents.
  • Repetitive need to lift significant amounts of weight.
  • Regular working conditions that require unusual positions relative to their necks, backs and joints.

Interestingly, the combined sum of all injuries that were the result of a burn (fire or chemical), smoke or gas inhalation, and thermal stress, on average between 2012 and 2017, was less than 10% compared to the total number of injuries sustained by firefighters. Significant improvements in personal protective equipment (PPE), technology and training, in addition to an overall decrease in the number of fires nationally, has helped to play a role in limiting the quantity of these types of injuries (Evarts & Molis, 2018).

5 firefighters fighting a house fire
Figure 1.2. Courtesy of Chris Mickal, New Orleans (Louisiana) Fire Department Photo Unit.

The overall total number of incidents resulting in injury to firefighters has been steadily declining over the past decade; however, there has been relatively minimal improvement in the percentage of sprains, strains and muscular pains. There exists a colossal opportunity to reduce the prevalence and severity of these sprains, strains and muscular pains through the use of ergonomics, training and education.

Sprain, strain and muscular pain are the most prevalent of all injury types incurred by firefighters, with the most common cause of injuries being overexertion, falls, jumps and slips (Figure 1.2). This injury prevalence is found in all areas of job requirements, including on the fireground, responding to and from an incident, at non-fire emergencies, during training, and during “other” on-duty activities (Tables 1.1 and 1.2).

Table 1.1. Firefighter injury totals
Firefighter injuriesAnnual total injuriesFireground operations injuriesNon-fire emergency injuries
TotalPercentage of totalTotalPercentage of total
Table 1.2. Annual causes of firefighter injuries
Cause of injury2005200620072008200920102011201220132014201520162017
Contact with an object13.210.811.913.011.412.411.710.912.
Exposure to chemicals/radiation6.
Exposure to fire products9.28.18.812.712.
Extreme weather1.
Motor vehicle accident1.
Struck by an object6.

The following is a summary of firefighter injury statistics.

Brief overview of firefighter injury statistics

  • Sprains, strains and muscular pain are the most prevalent of all injury types incurred by firefighters (Evarts & Stein, 2019; Evarts & Molis, 2018).
  • Firefighters are most often injured by way of overexertion and falls, jumps and slips (Evarts & Stein, 2019; Evarts & Molis, 2018).
  • From 2012 to 2014, 87% of fire-related firefighter injuries were associated with structural fires (USFA, 2016).
  • Firefighters are more likely to be injured during fireground operations than any other type of duties (Evarts & Molis, 2018).
  • From 2012 to 2014, firefighter injuries occurred most frequently between 1 and 4 p.m. and during the months of July and January (Evarts & Molis, 2018).
  • Between 2012 to 2014, 95% of all fire-related firefighter injuries were sustained by males, comparable to the composition of the fire service with an average of 96% male firefighters (Evarts & Molis, 2018).
  • Between 2012 and 2014, injuries to career firefighters occurred most often in midcareer, peaking between ages 40 to 44 (Evarts & Molis, 2018).
  • In 2015, there were 1,160,450 local firefighters working in 29,727 fire departments in the United States. Half of these firefighters were over the age of 40 (Evarts & Molis, 2018).

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