The largest share of firefighter deaths occurred while firefighters were operating at fires (24 deaths), accounting for just over one-third of the on-duty deaths last year. This is the fourth time in the last six years that the total has been fewer than 25 deaths.
“For several years, the number of on-duty firefighter deaths averaged around 100 deaths per year, but recently there’s been a fairly consistent decrease in the annual totals,” said Rita Fahy, NFPA’s manager of fire databases and systems. “The 10-year average has now dropped from approximately 100 firefighter deaths to 81.”
Of the 68 firefighter fatalities last year, 32 were volunteer firefighters, 24 were career firefighters, six were employees of federal land management agencies, three were federal contractors, one was an employee of a state land management agency, one was a civilian employee of the military, and one was a state prison inmate.
Overexertion, stress and medical issues accounted for by far the largest share of firefighter deaths. Of the 40 deaths in this category, 35 were classified as sudden cardiac deaths, usually heart attacks, with onset while the victim was on duty. This reflects only one less death than the 2014 total, reinforcing last year’s finding, which showed that the general downward trend in on-duty sudden cardiac deaths since 2007 has stopped. Cardiac-related events accounted for 51 percent of the deaths in 2015, and 42 percent of the deaths over the past 10 years.
“While it’s encouraging to see an overall decline in the number of firefighter fatalities, areas of concern remain, particularly sudden cardiac deaths,” said Fahy. She also noted the significant number of cancer deaths and suicides among current and former firefighters that are not captured in the report that only tracks on-duty deaths.
The firefighter fatality study is made possible by the cooperation and assistance of the United States Fire Service, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program of the Department of Justice, the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the United States Fire Administration, the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Land Management of the U.S. Department of the Interior.