The fire service profession is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. When firefighters sign up for duty, they selflessly take on the risk of severe injury and death to serve and protect those in their communities. In 2017 alone, 60 firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty according to the National Fire Protection Association’s annual study of line of duty firefighter deaths. It is important that we as citizens understand the risk firefighters take every day which is why we have broken down some of the statistics surrounding firefighter fatalities.
Cardiac events leading cause of line of duty deaths
As we have covered previously, sudden cardiac events like heart attacks are a leading cause of firefighter fatalities in the United States. In 2017, 48% of firefighter line of duty deaths were a result of a sudden cardiac event. In comparison, only 5% of firefighters died from burns suffered in the line of duty which may come as a surprise to many of us. Year after year, cardiac events are the leading cause of death in the fire service protection due to the extreme stresses and physical exertions firefighters endure while responding to emergencies.
Fireground deaths down in 2017
In total, 17 firefighters died as the result of direct injury caused while responding to fires. That is the second lowest annual number since the NFPA began recording firefighter death statistics in 1977. Of the 17 fireground deaths that year, nine firefighters died responding to structure fires while eight died responding to wildfires.
Long-term health effects of firefighting
The NFPA study admits that it is difficult to measure firefighter deaths resulting from the long-term health problems associated with the fire service profession. However, there are some indicators that suggest more firefighters die as a result of their jobs while off-duty or retired. A troubling example of this is the number of firefighters and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who commit suicide. In 2017, 91 firefighters and first responders committed suicide, which may be the most troubling statistic of all. Other health issues such as cancer and long-term cardiac health issues are also leading causes of death for retired firefighters.
The dangers of the fire service are wide-ranging and many. While most of us may think that the greatest risk for firefighters occurs while on duty, the statistics show that firefighters are at equal risk of death while off duty or retired. We should never forget the sacrifices made by these brave public servants because when they sign up for duty, they sign over their lives in service to their communities.
Care about the health and safety of Firefighters and EMTs? Read other articles from our Firefighter health series.