Firefighter Death Rate Not Improved Since 1970s
Despite safety advances, rate of deaths remains steady for more than 20 years

National Fire Protection Association

Quincy, MA, May 10, 2002 - Despite scientific, technical and safety code advances over many years, firefighters today are dying inside structure fires at a rate that parallels their on-duty death rate during the 1970s, according to a report released today from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). These findings are based on a 24-year analysis of on-duty firefighter deaths from 1977-2000.

NFPA's report suggests possible reasons that firefighter fatalities have not kept pace with the drop in structure fires. These include questions about the adequacy of equipment and staff at the fire scene, the sufficiency of firefighter training, the role of some aspects or types of modern building construction in fire development or collapse, and the rapidity with which building furnishings and other contents burn. Finally, firefighters may be at another great risk-the risk of facing fire while believing that the latest protective ensembles and equipment can shield them more thoroughly from fire than they actually can.

The analysis, conducted by Rita Fahy, Ph.D., manager of fire databases and systems at NFPA, shows that anticipated decreases in the rate of firefighter deaths during firefighting operations inside structures have not kept pace with improvements in personal protective ensemble, equipment, training, and accepted incident management protocol. U.S. structure fire rates have been generally declining over the last two decades, and this should have led to a greater decline in firefighter deaths.

"We are discouraged that the number of deaths of firefighters in structure fires has not gone down with the number of structure fires and with technological advances," said Gary O. Tokle, assistant vice president, public fire protection division at NFPA. "Dr. Fahy's analysis makes clear the need for improvements in training, equipping and supervising firefighting personnel."

NFPA's report prescribes full compliance with safety recommendations in order to enhance firefighter safety. Some of these recommendations include implementation of personnel accountability systems that track personnel-- both by location and function, and that allow fire incident commanders to immediately locate firefighters at emergencies. Firefighters should also be aware of how far they have traveled into a burning building and make sure they have identified escape routes and that those escape routes have not been compromised. Danger signs like fires in basements, indications of potential collapses, flashover and backdraft must also be heeded, as should be low air alarms on SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus). PASS (Personal Alert Safety System) devices must be activated. Attention to personal fitness and health are tantamount, the report concluded. So, too, must there be adherence to state-of-the-art firefighter occupational safety standards.

All recommendations must be used together as a system in order to assure success, the report urged .

The full report will be available in the July/August issue of NFPA Journal and includes NFPA's yearly (2001) breakdown of firefighter fatalities. For more information on firefighter statistics, please visit NFPA's Web site at