Eight Missouri firefighters were injured when a pair of fire trucks collided while responding to a call.
(Photo: AP/Wide World)
U.S. Firefighter Injuries for 2008
NFPA Journal®, November/December 2009
By Michael J. Karter and Joseph Molis
Download the full "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2008" report (PDF, 128 KB)
Based on data collected during NFPA’s Survey of Fire Departments for U.S. Fire Experience for 2008, an estimated 79,700 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty last year. This figure is virtually unchanged from 2007. In recent years, the number of firefighter injuries has been considerably lower than they were in the 1980s and 1990s, but this is due in part to additional questions on exposures, which allow us to place them in their own categories. Previously, some of these exposures may have been included in total injuries under other categories.
Download the full "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2008" report (PDF, 128 KB)
2008 Firefighter Injury Narratives
RELATED NFPA REPORTS
Firefighter Injuries for 2007
Firefighter Injuries for 2004 (PDF, 332 KB)
2008 Firefighter Fatalities
2008 Firefighter Fatality Incidents
2008 Catastrophic Multi-Death Fires
2008 Catastrophic Fire Incidents
2008 U.S. Fire Loss
2008 Large-Loss Fires
2008 Large-Loss Fire Incidents
BY THE NUMBERS
- 79,700 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2008, a slight decrease of 0.5 percent and virtually no change from the year before.
- 36,595, or 45.9 percent, of all firefighter injuries occurredduring fireground operations. An estimated 15,745 occurredat nonfire emergencies, while 14,250 occurredduring other on-duty activities.
- Regionally, the Northeast had the highest fireground injury rate, with 5.5 injuries occurring per 100 fires, more than twice the rate of the rest of the country.
- The major types of injuries
receivedduring fireground operations were strains, sprains, muscular pain (48.8 percent); wound, cut, bleeding, bruises (15.6 percent); and smoke or gas inhalation (6.2 percent). Strains, sprains, and muscular pain accounted for 56.5 percent of all nonfireground injuries.
There were an estimated 10,380 exposures to infectious diseases such as hepatitis, meningitis, and HIV in 2008. This amounts to 0.7 exposures per 1,000 emergency medical runs by fire departments in 2008.
There were an estimated 20,650 exposures to hazardous conditions such as asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals, and fumes in 2008. This amounts to 18.9 exposures per 1,000 hazardous condition runs in 2008.
An estimated 15,250 injuries, or 19.1 percent of all firefighter injuries, resulted in lost time in 2008.
Previously, NFPA reported that 103 firefighters died on duty (“2008 Firefighter Fatalities," July/August NFPA Journal ).
Injuries by type of duty
Type of duty is divided into five categories: responding to or returning from an incident, including fire and nonfire emergencies; fireground, including structure fires, vehicle fires, and brush fires, which refers to all activities from the moment of arrival at the scene to departure; nonfire emergency, including rescue calls, hazardous calls, and natural disaster calls; training; and other on-duty activities, such as inspection or maintenance duties.
Results by type of duty indicate, not surprisingly, that the largest share of injuries occurs during fireground operations. Last year, fireground operations accounted for 36,595 injuries, or 45.9 percent of all firefighter injuries. That figure is the lowest it’s been since 1981, when the current firefighter injury breakdown for type of duty was implemented. In 1981, there were 67,500 injuries at the fireground; last year’s number represents a decrease of 54.2 percent from 1981. The rate of injuries per 1,000 fires has remained mostly unchanged, however, since the number of fires also decreased considerably — 49.8 percent — over the same period.
In addition to injuries at the fireground, an estimated 15,745, or 19.8 percent, occurred at nonfire emergencies, while 14,250, or 17.9 percent, occurred during other on-duty activities.
Nature of fireground injuries
The four major types of injuries that occur during fireground operations are strains, sprains (48.8 percent); wounds, cuts, bleeding, bruises (15.6 percent); smoke or gas inhalation (6.2 percent); burns (6.2 percent); and thermal stress (5.7 percent).
Results were fairly consistent during all non-fireground activities, with strains, sprains, and muscular pain accounting for 56.5 percent of all non-fireground injuries, and wounds, cuts, bleeding, and bruises accounting for 16.5 percent.
Causes of fireground injuries
Because fireground injuries are of particular concern, their causes were examined in more detail in this report. The definition of cause here refers to the initial circumstance leading to the injury. Falls, slips, jumps (23.5 percent) and overexertion, and strain (23.1 percent) were the leading causes of fireground injuries. Other major causes were contact with objects (13 percent) and exposure to fire products (12.7 percent).
Fire department vehicle collisions
NFPA reported earlier that 29 firefighters died in motor vehicle collisions in 2008 (see “2008 Firefighter Fatalities,” July/August NFPA Journal ).
In 2008, there were an estimated 14,950 collisions involving fire department emergency vehicles, where departments were responding to, or returning from, incidents. To put this number in perspective, fire departments responded to more than 25.3 million incidents in 2008, meaning that the number of collisions represents about one-tenth of 1 percent of the total responses. These collisions resulted in 670 firefighter injuries, or 0.9 percent of all firefighter injuries.
In addition, 1,000 collisions involving firefighters’ own vehicles occurred in 2008 while departments were responding to or returning from incidents. These collisions resulted in an estimated 70 injuries.
Average fires and fireground injuries per department by population protected
Examination of the average number of fires and fireground injuries per department by population of community protected in 2008 shows that the number of fires a fire department responds to is directly related to the population protected and that the number of fireground injuries incurred by a department is directly related to the number of fires the department attends. The second point is clear when we examine the range of the statistic: from a high of 80.4 injuries for departments protecting communities of 500,000 to 999,999 to a low of 0.2 injuries for departments protecting communities with fewer than 2,500 residents.
A useful way to look at firefighter injury experience and to obtain a reading on the relative risk that departments face is to examine the number of fireground injuries that occur for every 100 fires attended. This takes into account relative fire experience and allows more direct comparison between departments protecting communities of different sizes. The overall range of rates varied little, from a high of 3.2 for departments that protect communities of 250,000 to 499,999 to a low of 1.3 for departments that protect communities of 5,000 to 9,999. Thus, the wide range noted in average fireground injuries by population protected narrows when relative fire experience is taken into account. The overall injury rate for departments protecting communities of 50,000 or more was 2.8 injuries per 100 fires, which is 65 percent higher than the rate for departments protecting communities with fewer than 50,000 residents.
The risk of fireground injury per 100 firefighters by size of community protected was also calculated. Larger departments generally had the highest rates, with departments protecting communities of 250,000 to 499,999 having the highest rate, with 7.9 injuries per 100 firefighters. As community size decreases, the rate drops steadily to a low of 0.9 for departments protecting fewer than 2,500 people. That is more than an eight-to-one difference in risk of injury between communities of 250,000 to 499,999 and those of fewer than 2,500 residents.
An explanation for this difference is that, although a department protecting a community with a population of 250,000 to 499,999 has, on average, more than 22 times as many firefighters than a department protecting a population of less than 2,500, the larger department attends more than 100 times as many fires, and as a result incurs considerably more fireground injuries.
Average fires and fireground injuries by population protected and region
The results of each region of the country indicate that the number of fires a fire department responds to is directly related to the population protected, and the number of fireground injuries incurred by a department is directly related to the number of fires attended. The Northeast reported a higher number of fireground injuries per 100 fires for most community sizes where all departments reported sufficient data by region. The overall rate for the Northeast was 5.5 injuries per 100 fires, more than twice the rate as the rest of the country.
NFPA thanks the many fire departments across the country that responded to the NFPA Survey for U.S. Fire Experience (2008) for their continuing efforts to provide in a timely manner the data so necessary to make national projections of firefighter injuries.
The authors also wish to gratefully thank the many NFPA staff members who worked on this year’s firefighter injuries survey, including Frank Deely, John Baldi, and John Conlon for editing and keying the survey forms and for their follow-up telephone calls to fire departments; and Norma Candeloro for handling the processing of survey forms and typing this report.
Michael J. Karter, Jr. is senior statistician with NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research Division. Joseph L. Molis is a fire data assistant and a lieutenant with the Providence, Rhode Island, Fire Department.