NFPA Firefighter Fatality Report: Lowest Number of On-Duty Deaths in 34 Years

The number of on-duty firefighter deaths is the lowest since 1977. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) today released its annual Firefighter Fatality Report (download available HERE) at the NFPA Conference & Expo, which shows that a total of 72 on-duty firefighter deaths occurred in the United States in 2010. This is a sharp drop from the 105 on-duty deaths in 2008 and 82 in 2009 and it is the lowest annual total since the NFPA began conducting this annual study in 1977.

“We are very pleased to see that the number of on-duty firefighter deaths is at an historic low and continues to decline each year,” said James Shannon the president & CEO of the NFPA. “We strongly believe that the advances in training, equipment and fire codes are a major factor in reducing the deaths of these brave men and women that make up the ranks of volunteer and career firefighters.”

This is the fifth time in the past 10 years that the total number of deaths has been below 100. While the number of total deaths has dropped sharply, the number of cardiac-related deaths has not. The number of such deaths has been remarkably stable over the past six years.

The report found that the areas in which the deaths declined was diverse. 2010 saw the lowest number of fire ground deaths ever at 21, and the second lowest number of deaths while responding to or returning from alarms at 18 deaths. Deaths related to training activities and deaths while engaged in other non-emergency duties about matched the average numbers from the previous 10 years (11 and 18 deaths, respectively).

Other key findings in the report include:

  • There were nine deaths in crashes of road vehicles in 2010, as well as in 2009, which is the lowest since 1983.
  • There were 44 volunteer firefighters deaths in 2010, which continues a downward trend.
  • The ages of all U.S. firefighters who died ranged from 20 to 86 with a median age of 52.5 years.

Each year, the NFPA collects data on all firefighter fatalities in the U.S. that result from injuries or illnesses that occurred while the victims were on-duty. The term “on-duty” refers to being at the scene of an alarm, whether a fire or non-fire incident; while responding to or returning from an alarm; while participating in other fire department duties. This annual report is considered the definitive source of on-duty firefighter deaths.

NFPA’s Annual Firefighter Fatality Report Shows 82 On-Duty Firefighter Deaths in 2009

The 2009 edition of the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) annual firefighter fatality report, Firefighter Fatalities in the United States – 2009 and U.S. Fire Service Fatalities in Structure Fires, 1977-1999, was recently released, showing that 82 firefighters died while on-duty last year. This is the lowest total since 1993 and the third lowest recorded since NFPA began the study in 1977. Forty-one volunteer firefighters died in the line of duty last year, the lowest total since 1994, compared with 31 career firefighters.
“I am pleased that the number of firefighter fatalities in the United States went down in 2009,” said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg, who also serves on the Board of Directors for NFPA and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. “I hope and pray that it will continue to decrease because even one line-of-duty firefighter death is too many.”
According to the report, the leading cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities continues to be sudden cardiac death: “The number of (sudden cardiac deaths) has been trending downwards since the late 1970s, but they have leveled off at under 40 deaths while on-duty each year and continue to account for approximately 40 percent of the deaths annually.”
The report lists several programs and initiatives designed to reduce the cause of on-duty firefighter fatalities, including the National Volunteer Fire Council’s Heart-Healthy Firefighter Program. The report states: “An important part of this NVFC program includes health screenings that they make available annually at several fire service trade shows around the country. The purpose of the program is to lower the incidence of cardiac-related problems in the fire service by educating firefighters and their families about nutrition, fitness and heart disease prevention.”
According to the report, nine firefighters died in road crashes in 2009 – the lowest total since 1983. The average number of deaths in road vehicle crashes over the last 10 years is 15 a year, with the most being 25 in 2003 and 2007.
The full report can be downloaded for free from NFPA’s Web site,