NFPA: U.S. Firefighter Deaths and Injuries Steady in 2018
In 2018, 64 firefighters died while on duty in the US, continuing a five-year trend of fewer than 70 deaths per year. A recent NFPA report shows a slight decrease in on-duty injuries that year, as well. An estimated 58,250 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2018, the lowest number since NFPA began analyzing this data in 1981.
However, the NFPA also estimates there were 47,150 exposures to hazardous conditions such as asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals and fumes in 2018. Recent increases in exposures can in part be explained by heightened awareness about cancer and other chronic illnesses in the fire service and the importance of documentation. This could have resulted in improved reporting for such exposures.
On-duty Firefighter Deaths in 2018
There were 25 deaths at fires in 2018, with the largest share in structure fires (13), followed by wildland (10), a vehicle fire and a gas main explosion. The most common fatal injury causes were:
- Overexertion/stress/medical 28 (44%)
- Crashes 12 (19%)
- Structural collapse 6 (9%)
- Rapid fire progress 5 (8%)
- Struck by vehicle 3 (5%)
- Struck by object 3 (5%)
Firefighter Injuries in 2018
In 2018, 22,975 injuries (39 percent of total) occurred at the fireground, according to a recent article in the NFPA Journal. This was a 6 percent decrease from the previous year. Injuries at the fireground have decreased 66 percent from a high of 67,500 in 1981. An estimated 15,500 injuries, or 27 percent of all firefighter injuries, resulted in lost time.
Although the number of fires has declined steadily, the rate of injuries per 1,000 fires over the past 35 years has fluctuated, from a high of 28.3 injuries per 1,000 fires in 1990 to a low of 17.4 injuries per 1,000 fires in 2018.
Overall, the number of injuries at non-fire emergencies has increased in recent decades, from 9,600 in 1981 to 11,625 in 2018 – an increase of 21 percent. The injury rate per 1,000 non-fire emergencies declined between 1981 and 2018, from 1.2 to 0.3, largely because the number of non-fire emergencies increased at a higher rate than the number of injuries.
Other non-fireground injury locations include:
- 4,150 injuries while responding to or returning from incidents
- 8,175 injuries during training activities
- 11,325 injuries during other on-duty activities
- Nature and cause of fireground injuries
The major types of injuries that occurred during fireground operations were:
- Strains and sprains: 38%
- Smoke or gas inhalation: 135
- Wounds, cuts, bleeding and bruises: 11%
- Thermal stress (frostbite or heat exhaustion): 10%
Other Injury Numbers
In 2018, an estimated 14,425 collisions involved fire department emergency vehicles responding to or returning from incidents, a figure similar to 2017. This number represents just 0.04 percent of total responses. However, collisions resulted in 575 injuries, or 1 percent of the total.
Larger fire departments generally had the highest rates of fireground injuries per firefighter. Departments protecting communities of 500,000 or more had 5.6 injuries per 100 firefighters. As the size of the community decreases, the rate of fireground injuries generally declines, to a low of 0.9 for departments protecting fewer than 2,500 people.
A total of 2,631 public departments responded to the 2018 fire experience survey. No state or federal firefighting entities were included. Understanding how fatalities, nonfatal injuries and illnesses occur can assist in identifying corrective actions that could help minimize the inherent risks of firefighter work.