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Current Events and Issues

Factors that contribute to preventable firefighter deaths

Posted: April 26, 2018

Recent study highlights the importance of SOPs in preventing firefighter fatalities

Eighty to 100 firefighters die in the line-of-duty each year, in most cases from either cardiovascular events or traumatic injury. Researchers recently looked at National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) firefighter fatality reports to try to identify factors that tended to contribute to preventable line-of-duty deaths.

The study authors first focused on fatal incidents involving personal protective equipment (PPE), seat belts and poor physical condition. For these incidents, they looked at how several demographic factors or incident characteristics may have played a role. These included age, gender, years on the job, weather conditions and type of department.

In a second comparison, the authors looked at firefighters who lacked training, medical clearance or experience versus those who did not have those factors implicated in their deaths. In these comparisons, the authors looked at whether the department had appropriate protocols and standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place or not.

Research takeaways

  • Firefighters are more likely to die in potentially preventable incidents during periods of clear weather and with more years on the job. The authors suggest this may come from complacency and a false sense of security owing to good conditions and past experiences. In inclement weather conditions, firefighters are more careful.
  • Years on the job, but not age, correlated with greater mortality. Carelessness, again, is presumed to be the cause of this and volunteer firefighters were more prone to this than career firefighters.
  • Firefighters who worked in departments without SOPs for respirator fit testing, PPE, recruit fitness testing, communications equipment, vehicle maintenance, mayday operations or incident command were more likely to have lack of training or experience implicated in the fatality.
  • Though not entirely conclusive, this study pointed to the likelihood of fatigue playing a factor in preventable deaths as measured by whether or not the firefighter had already answered one other call while on shift.
  • Lack of physical fitness testing and medical clearance of recruits was a statistically significant factor and likely points to carelessness in departments.

These preventable line-of-duty deaths require firefighting leaders to ensure that standardized protocols are in place and followed and that firefighters are safety-conscious in all conditions and circumstances.

Learn more about this research

This research article is available through our library by contacting FEMA-NETCLibrary@fema.dhs.gov. Interested readers may be able to access the article through their local library or through the publishers’ websites.

Kahn, S., Palmieri, T., Sen, S., Woods, J., Gunter, O. (2017). Factors Implicated in Safety-related Firefighter Fatalities. Journal of Burn Care & Research: Vol 38 (1), e83-e88.

This summary is for informational purposes only. As such, the content does not reflect any official positions, policies or guidelines on behalf of the sender, the U.S. Fire Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, nor any other federal agencies, departments or contracting entities. Similarly, this summary does not represent in any manner an official endorsement or relationship to any private or public companies, organizations/associations, or any authors or individuals cited or websites associated within the article.

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