At the start of 2009 I began a deeper look into the statistics that make up our line of duty deaths. One reason was to see in greater detail what firefighters are dying of and how. A second reason was to begin an honest and respectful look at what is both technically and culturally considered line of duty by the American fire service. To help understand the second half of the 2009 data, readers should review the articles from earlier this year. Readers should also note that the investigative reports do not exist for every 2009 fatality. Knowledge gained from those reports may affect the information interpreted below.
“2009 LODD 6-Month Summary” June 2009
In the last half of 2009 forty personnel died in the line of duty according to the United States Fire Administration. Following the earlier line of duty death articles this one looks at the last six months of 2009.
20; 24; 28; 32; 33(2); 34(4); 36; 37(2); 39; 41; 44(3); 45(2); 47(4); 50; 51; 52; 54(2); 55; 56; 60(3); 63; 68(2); 70; 72; 75
The youngest was 20, the oldest 75. Average age for the last six months was 48. Of the senior ages, five were above 65 years of age.
Age 68: died of a unknown medical cause
Age 68: died of heart attack
Age 70: died of stress/overexertion
Age 72: died of stress/overexertion
Age 75: died of trauma related to a fall
Fire Attack Deaths:
Nineteen deaths occurred during fireground operations, or ‘on scene’ as classified by the USFA. Only five of those are further classified as having been involved in ‘fire attack.’ Ten of the nineteen deaths are classified as medical causes, either stress/overexertion or heart attack. Of the specific nature and cause of fireground deaths, two firefighters were killed in a structural collapse, two wildland firefighters were killed in a apparatus crash and a third wildland firefighter (pilot) killed in a aircraft crash. The youngest fireground death was 28; the oldest 70.
Looking in greater detail of the Fire Attack deaths, in a ‘traditional’ sense of line of duty minus those of a medical cause or nature, only six victims are identified. Two firefighters were killed in a collapse during a search for a possible occupant. Two wildland firefighters died in an apparatus accident while seeking a route of escape from an enveloping fire. A pilot died in a crash during wildfire operations. The remaining deaths occurred due to medical causes, trauma or other nature not directly related to the fire attack, in the ‘traditional’ sense. One death from stress/overexertion occurred as the victim was operating the pump of an engine during a structure fire.
Rank of Victims;
Chief: 4; Deputy Chief: 1; Assistant Chief: 3
In the second half of 2009, eight chief officers died in the line of duty. This does not include the suicide of a career assistant chief. Their actions during the time of their death are:
Heart attack while responding: 1
Heart attack while on the scene: 4
Stress/Overexertion, on scene: 1
Stress/Overexertion, not on the fire scene: 2
Of the chief officers, all but one was a volunteer. With exception of one, none of the deaths occurred during a structure fire. Each died while operating at lesser alarms (vehicle fire, MVA, EMS incident) or died following a day of fire service activity. Their role within the incident command system is not completely known. The ages of the fallen chief officers are: 34; 44; 52; 54; 63; 68; 70; 72. The average age and action at the time of death prompts additional considerations. The average age for these chief officers is 57. At the time of their deaths, all but two were participating on lesser or minor alarms. Seeing that nationally, volunteer departments rely on staffing available at time of alarm, we may need to look in depth at what is the chief officer response of volunteer departments; do some volunteer departments rely on chief officers as drivers? Is it common for the chief to respond on EMS calls and motor vehicle accidents? What is the command structure lacking in departments that require a chief officer to respond on such minor incidents? Perhaps none of these are truly serious issues but when gathered with equal data from the first half of 2009, a pattern may emerge.
In the second half of 2009 six fatalities are attributed with incident response. Of those, only one has noted the lack of seatbelt use. If we remove the two wildland fire victims and the aircraft crash, there is only one death from an apparatus accident. The other fatalities are noted to have been caused by a medical nature; the victim’s actions at the time were response related. The ages of the victims related to response are: 34; 37; 45; 47; 55; 60. It is interesting to note that the second half data disproves common thought about young volunteer POV response and vehicle accidents.
In the latter half of 2009, seven deaths fall into unique sub categories. One death is attributed to training (trauma, rappelling). Two were noted to have occurred during or following physical training (ages 20 and 34). One is reported due to an earlier medical exposure. Two are attributed to falls (one during a parade; one during a public relations event). One other death was suicide, the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound by a career chief officer while on duty. Early research indicates that this death may be the first official line of duty death by suicide.
Once we look in greater detail at the statistics provided we can give greater consideration to reviewing efforts underway to reduce these numbers. The next article will make a comparison between the official and culturally traditional line of duty deaths in 2009.