By Robert Tutterow
There was good news and bad news to be gleaned from the United States Fire Administration’s (USFA) preliminary line-of-duty death (LODD) report. Although the total number is less than 100 for the fourth year in a row, the numbers reveal that there is still much work to be done. What follows is the good, the bad, and the ugly from the report.
According to the USFA’s preliminary data, the number of firefighter LODDs in 2012 was 83. This is the same number as 2011 and marks the fourth consecutive year that the number is less than 100. Before this streak, there were only three other years that the number was less than 100-in 1992, 1993, and 1998. The number of LODDs has gone up and down through the years, but the last four years are significant.
In 2004, the USFA set a goal of reducing LODDs by 25 percent by 2009 and by 50 percent by 2014. With four straight years below 100, I think the fire service can finally claim that progress is being made. Although the progress has been slow and goals have yet to be reached, the recent numbers should be cause for celebration. More importantly, it should be an impetus for bringing the numbers down further.
Why are the numbers consistently lower than in previous years? I don’t think it can be attributed to any one thing in particular. Rather, it is the result of several safety improvements and initiatives. We now have a generation of firefighters who have served with a focus on safety and health. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, was first issued in 1987. It is now 26 years old. The standard is an umbrella standard. For example, the Technical Committee responsible for the document is also responsible for six other NFPA standards. The six standards relate to requirements for safety officers, medical, incident management, infection control, fitness, and rehab. In addition, there are 41 other NFPA standards referenced in NFPA 1500.
The conversation about firefighter health and safety began in earnest during the 1980s. The conversation led to the NFPA’s involvement in firefighter health and safety standards. We now have much stronger standards related to safety in personal protective equipment (PPE), professional qualifications, and apparatus. Kudos to those involved in the NFPA standard-making process.
Concurrent to standards development, we have seen the emergence of several safety and health initiatives. Almost all fire service organizations have an emphasis on safety, though some are more lip service than actual contributions. At the risk of offending by omission, there are two organizations that should be recognized for their contributions: the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) and the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). Maybe, just maybe, all of this work is beginning to pay off.
A quick overview of 2012 LODDs reveals that 51 were volunteers, 27 were career, and five were affiliated with a wildland firefighting agency. The leading cause of deaths was once again heart attacks with a total of 48 (57 percent). Twenty-one (25 percent) died after the conclusion of their “on-duty activity.” Ten firefighters lost their lives while engaged in wildland fire activities. There were three incidents where more than one firefighter was killed, with two being killed in each of the three.
As this is a publication is about apparatus and equipment, it should be highlighted that 11 firefighters lost their lives while responding to/returning from calls. Six were in their personal vehicles, and five were in fire apparatus. This is the same number as in 2012. Two of the fatalities were heart attacks.
Of particular note is that 28 firefighters (a third) were killed at a fire scene. That means that two of three LODDs occurred somewhere other than a fire scene. Forty-five (52 percent) were killed at incident scenes, including fires. This means that 38 (48 percent) died somewhere other than an incident scene. How does this fit the firefighting mantra? Surely these are more easily prevented. As always, almost all of 2012 firefighter LODDs did not occur while attempting to save savable lives.
In reviewing the response/returning LODDs, the following describe the circumstances leading to the LODDs:
• In Virginia, a volunteer firefighter was killed after being ejected from a fire truck in a single-vehicle crash.
• A volunteer firefighter in Pennsylvania was thrown from his car after crashing it while responding to a call.
• In North Carolina, a chief was killed while responding to an accident. He was not wearing a seat belt.
• A West Virginia firefighter died in a fire truck crash. He had been riding the tailboard. He was thrown off the tailboard when the truck lost control on black ice and came to rest on an embankment. The deceased firefighter was a passenger in the fire truck that was being driven by his father.
• In Texas, a firefighter was seriously injured when the personal vehicle he was driving in with two other firefighters rolled over several times. The firefighter, who was not the driver, was found outside the vehicle and died from his injuries. It was reported that investigators were working to determine how the firefighter ended up outside the vehicle.
ROBERT TUTTEROW retired as safety coordinator for the Charlotte (NC) Fire Department and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. His 34-year career includes 10 as a volunteer. He has been very active in the National Fire Protection Association through service on the Fire Service Section Executive Board and technical committees involved with safety, apparatus, and personal protective equipment. He is a founding member and president of the Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization (F.I.E.R.O.).