On-Duty Deaths and Advancing Hoselines in 2017

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We thought we saw a record low in this category in 2016, but 2017 beat that. (Bill Carey photo)
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A total of 12 firefighters died while on-duty and ‘Advancing Hoselines’ in 2017 (including wildland) as defined and recorded by the United States Fire Administration. Significant in 2017 is the fact that there were zero firefighter fatalities in this activity type while inside a burning structure. In 2016 there were two [1]

93 on-duty deaths are recorded for 2017. Of those, 12 are listed under the activity type ‘Advancing Hoselines’ per the USFA. Nine of the fatalities were volunteer firefighters; three were career firefighters (including wildland). The average age of the group is 44. The youngest fatality was 19 years of age; the oldest was 60. To break down this number of 12 down further we first remove those fatalities in the wildland area.

Wildland Firefighter Fatalities

Four of the 12 in this activity type involve wildland firefighters. Two were killed by falling trees; one died due to a chainsaw injury; and one died as a result of being trapped by fire while working to support a dozer line [2]. This reduces the number to eight.

Cause and Nature of Death

‘Unknown’ is the leading cause and nature of death of the remaining fatalities followed by Stress/Overexertion and Heart Attack. Reading the USFA narrative and incident news reports, ‘Unknown’ typically is a firefighter death due to some cardiac issue or a nature and cause not yet reported. The youngest was 35; the oldest was 60.

Training

One firefighter fatality in this category involved live fire training. In this incident, the victim suffered a fractured leg while advancing a hoseline. 10 days later he experienced respiratory difficulty and cardiac arrest. He later died at the hospital. An autopsy revealed a pulmonary embolism due to the leg fracture [3].

Structure Fires

Six of the eight remaining firefighter fatalities occurred at residential structure fires. None occurred at commercial structures. One other fatality involved a residential structure fire but the victim was stricken later in the day. Every one of these fatalities occurred when the victim was outside of the structure.

Summary

In 2016 two firefighters died inside burning structures while ‘Advancing Hoselines’, out of a total of 89 firefighter fatalities recorded for that year. In 2017 this activity number dropped to its lowest possible. These detailed numbers for structural firefighting have always been quite low but it is worth considering what influences are affecting the general decline and lowness. While it may be too soon, and too difficult, now to determine if the latest fire behavior revelations and education have had an immediate impact we do know that we should not take the data presented in lump sum in yearly reports as a true representation of how firefighters are dying. This does not imply that a zero number negates related safe practices but that a zero or low number negates any baseless claims used to promote any subject solely for promoting the topic and its presenter. We are a much smarter firefighting service and we deserve to not have education or products pandered to us as if we are blind to the true details of our on-duty deaths.

References

1. “On-Duty Deaths and Advancing Hoselines in 2016” Carey FirefighterNation.com/FireRescue Magazine.com January 2017
2. “California Thomas Fire LODD Information Report” FirefighterNation.com / CAL FIRE, January 2018
3. William F. Gerace, USFA, April 28, 2017

 

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