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Last week, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released its annual report on firefighter fatalities. Over the last ten years, an average of 98 U.S. firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty annually. Generally, the annual total is over 100, but this year showed a significant drop. 105 firefighters were killed in the line of duty in 2008, but only 82 succumbed in 2009. This is the lowest total since 1993 and may or may not indicate a trend. There are two main issues that this report brings to light. Both concern firefighter safety and wellness and bring to light the national trend toward emphasizing these issues that affect us all.
The first issue indicates a need for continued emphasis on improving the fitness of firefighters. The number one cause of death in the line of duty has been and continues to be sudden cardiac death. 42% of the line of duty deaths last year were attributed to this cause. This figure underscores the need to continue joint labor/management programs that promote health and wellness. Fitness screenings are a great way to identify cardiac issues and other medical problems before they become lethal.
The second issue brought to light by these numbers is the increased ability and willingness for agencies to learn from and share information on close calls. When a firefighter is involved in a near-miss situation, an investigation can be done. This is not to place blame, rather to find out what can be corrected or improved so that it will not reoccur. Fire departments share this information on venues such as ‘Firefighter Near Miss Reporting system’ and ‘TheSecretList@FireFightersCloseCalls.com’. Also, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health investigates and reports on every line of duty death in the U.S.
The concern for firefighter safety is growing in importance for fire departments. Equipment purchases, personal protective equipment, policy, and procedures are never considered without evaluating their impact on firefighter safety. The drop in fatalities this past year is encouraging, but is only a start.
Until next time – be safe!
Click on the links below to read Safety Chief Bancroft's previous Firefighter Safety Blogs:
Portland Fire & Rescue We Respond: Always Ready, Always There
June 15, 2010