. Author(s): Michael J. Karter, Jr., Joseph Molis. Published on November 1, 2011.


Firefighters in Flint, Michigan, battle a fire at a vacant structure in March. Crews battled at least five fires in Flint on the same day the city began laying off a quarter of its firefighters as part of an effort to close an estimated $8 million budget deficit. Four fires at vacant homes on the day before injured two firefighters. (Photograph: AP/Wide World/The Flint Journal, Ryan Garza)

2010 U.S. Firefighter Injuries

NFPA Journal®, November/December 2011

By Michael J. Karter and Joseph L. Molis

 Download the full "U.S Firefighter Injuries - 2010" report (PDF, 128 KB)
 Read the "U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2010" feature

Structure Fire
A 45-year-old company officer with 22 years of service suffered burns to his legs after he fell into a burning cellar when the floor in a one-story, wood-frame, single-family home collapsed. 

 


California firefighters take cover as an explosion at an industrial building hurls flames, shrapnel, and chunks of molten titanium. Three firefighters were injured in the blaze. (Photo: AP/Wide World)

 U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2010
 Read the 2010 Firefighter Injury Narratives
 Download the full "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2010" report (PDF, 128 KB)



2010 FIREFIGHTER INJURIES  -
BY THE NUMBERS

• 71,875 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2010, a decrease of 8 percent from the year before.

• In addition to injuries, there were 11,200 exposures to infectious diseases and 25,700 exposures to hazardous conditions.

• 32,675, or 45.4 percent, of all firefighter injuries occurred during fire ground operations. An estimated 13,355 occurred at non-fire emergencies, 4,380 while responding to or returning from an incident, 7,275 during training activities, and 14,190 during other on-duty activities.

• The Northeast reported a higher number of fire ground injuries per 100 fires than other regions of the country.

• The major types of injuries received during fire ground operations were strains, sprains, muscular pain, which were responsible for 52.8 percent of the injuries; wounds, cuts, bleeding, bruises, responsible for 14.2 percent; and burns, responsible for 5.9 percent. Strains, sprains, and muscular pain accounted for 59 percent of all non-fire ground injuries.

• The leading causes of fire ground injuries were overexertion and strain, which was responsible for 25.7 percent of the injuries, and falls, slips, and jumps, which were responsible for 22.5 percent.


DEFINITION OF TERMS 

Fire: Any instance of uncontrolled burning. Excludes combustion explosions and fires that are out on arrival, whether authorized or not; overpressure ruptures without combustion; mutual aid responses; smoke scares; and hazardous materials responses, such as flammable gas, liquid, or chemical spills without fire.

Incident: The movement of a piece of fire service apparatus or equipment in response to an alarm.

Injury: Physical damage suffered by a person that requires or should require treatment by a medical practitioner, be it a physician, nurse, paramedic, or EMT, within one year of the incident, regardless of whether treatment was actually received, or that results in at least one day of restricted activity immediately following the incident.

The victim responded on mutual aid to the fire, which began in the cellar. The incident commander ordered the officer and his company of five firefighters to deploy a cellar nozzle inside the front door. The crew was to enter a few feet inside the door, cut a hole in the floor, and place the nozzle into the basement to help extinguish the fire.

After checking the floor for stability, the officer took a few careful steps over the threshold. About 5 feet (1.5 meters) inside the structure, he felt the floor start to give way. He turned to escape, but it was too late. He slid down into the burning basement, flames shooting around him, as more than half the floor of the house collapsed into the basement.

The officer’s crew immediately sprayed him with water to protect him, while others reached down to try to get him out. Some members of the crew ran to the front yard and grabbed a roof ladder, which they placed into the flaming void. The officer, now in intense pain, felt the ladder hit him and heard yells from above telling him to climb. After climbing two rungs, he felt his crew dragging him out.

The department reported that a rapid intervention team was assembled at the scene. Because the victim rapidly extricated himself with help from his crew, however, they were not used as a primary means of rescue.

The victim, who was wearing a complete protective ensemble, suffered second- and third-degree burns to his legs and required several skin grafts. He returned to active firefighting activities four months after the fire.
 
Structure Collapse
Arriving at the scene of a three-story, wood-frame apartment building fire seven minutes after they received numerous phone calls reporting the blaze, firefighters found a large amount of fire visible on the upper floors and roof of the 10,000-square-foot (929-square-meter) structure. 

They began offensive extinguishment operations, and a crew of five firefighters and a chief officer were deployed on the open-air stairs between the second- and third-floor landings. Shortly afterward, the building’s lightweight truss roof collapsed into the stairs, hurling flaming debris over the crew. Over the next several chaotic minutes, three of the men managed to escape by jumping from the unstable structure. However, the other three were unaccounted for. Firefighters frantically searched for the three, finding and removing two from the structure within a few minutes. The third was found 20 stressful minutes later, away from the fire scene.

After the collapse, the incident commander decided to use exterior master streams to extinguish the fire. Five hours later, all units cleared the scene.

The fire started on a second-story balcony, possibly when carelessly discarded smoking materials ignited some unknown material. Two sprinklers operated in the apartment to which the balcony belonged, preventing the fire from spreading into the structure, but flames traveled up the exterior of the building into the eaves of the third floor and into the attic.

The building’s detection system alerted the occupants, who escaped without injury.

The building, valued at $5 million, and its contents, valued at approximately $1 million, sustained a $2.75 million loss.

All the injured firefighters were wearing proper protective ensembles. Two suffered fractured legs and burns, and have not returned to duty. A third suffered a fractured wrist and burns, and has returned to firefighting activities. The three other victims suffered minor burns.

Fall From Apparatus
Firefighters were using a 1.125-inch (2.9-centimeter) hose line with Class A foam to extinguish hot spots at the scene of an outdoor fire that had burned for several days, when the 52-year-old engine operator fell backwards from the truck onto the pavement. He had climbed on top of the truck to add more foam into the water tank and lost his grip while climbing down off the rear of the engine.

The victim, who was wearing bunker pants and boots, was hospitalized for a day with head lacerations, a lower back injury, and a concussion. He returned to full duty three weeks after the incident.

Vehicle Fire
An engine company staffed solely by a fire captain responded to a vehicle fire in a rural area that was often used as dumping spot for stolen cars. On arrival, the captain found a car on fire, well off the road in an orchard.

As he began fire suppression operations, a second firefighter arrived in his own vehicle and began stretching a hose line towards the burning car. As the captain reached back to help him pull on the hose, he noticed a set of headlights bearing down on them at a high rate of speed. He yelled to his partner and tried to get out of the way, but it was too late. A white pickup truck struck the captain a glancing blow, tossing him aside. It then hit the firefighter from behind, carrying him on the hood for approximately 60 feet (18 meters) before swerving back towards the road, throwing him to the side before speeding from the scene. 

The captain, who was wearing a protective ensemble without self-contained breathing apparatus, suffered back and leg injuries. He is currently performing restricted duty and still being treated for his injuries. The 56-year-old firefighter suffered severe trauma to his chest and legs. He is still being treated for his injuries and is not yet able to walk. It is not known when either will return to firefighting duties.

Vehicle Fire
A 44-year-old firefighter suffered a head injury after she was struck by a hose while operating a mid-ship pump panel. 

The victim was among those responding to a fire in a boat parked in the driveway of a home. As the first-arriving crew began extinguishment with a 250-foot (76-meter) booster line, a second engine company arrived on scene and established a water supply. Due to the large amount of fire, however, officers decided to deploy a larger hand line and began foam operations.

The pump operator climbed on top of the apparatus to retrieve three buckets of foam while other firefighters deployed a 1¾-inch (4.4-centimeter) hand line. After she climbed down from the apparatus, she returned to the mid-ship pump panel and waited to begin foam operations. When an officer signaled to charge the hand line, she immediately sent water through the hose line.

Unbeknownst to her, the hose was uncoupled and was not connected after the first 50-foot (15-meter) section. It began to swing wildly around, spewing water all over the scene, and struck the operator in the head, knocking her unconscious. The victim, who was not wearing a helmet or any protective clothing, suffered a severe head injury and is currently unable to perform firefighting duties.

The department indicated that the coupling hit the victim below where her helmet would have sat and that it might have deflected the blow, possibly minimizing her injuries, if it had been worn properly. They have since incorporated a mandatory helmet policy for apparatus operators into their standard operating procedures.

EMS Call
When the fire department received a call for an 81-year-old man who was unresponsive and not breathing, the closest engine company with advanced life support (ALS) capabilities was dispatched with an ambulance. Upon arrival, the crew knocked on the door but got no response. When they tried the front door, they discovered it was locked, so the officer entered the house through an open garage door. Inside, he met a woman in the staircase who told him that the patient was upstairs. The woman left the building through the garage. The officer went upstairs, unlocked the front door, and let the three firefighters in.

As they began to treat the unconscious patient, the men noticed a strange odor that none of them could place. The officer sent the apparatus operator to the truck to get air-monitoring equipment and began to investigate the building for the source.

When the officer went downstairs, he found the woman outside next to a running car. He evaluated her and requested another ambulance to treat her for undisclosed symptoms. The officer then went back inside, where he found two emergency medical technicians from the ambulance treating the patient. The two firefighters were now outside, feeling ill. Everyone was ordered to evacuate the building, and the officer requested appropriate resources for further treatment and mitigation.

The 81-year-old man died, and the woman was treated at the hospital and released. The responding firefighters were all treated for carbon monoxide toxicity and returned to full duty the following day.

Investigators determined that an overheated catalytic converter from a running car in the garage caused the toxic atmosphere.

Vehicle Fire
A 29-year-old firefighter was severely injured when he was struck by a speeding car while operating a pump at a vehicle fire on an interstate highway. He stepped out of the enclosed cab to disconnect a hose when a car traveling at a high rate of speed lost control and hit him.

He is currently unable to perform firefighting duties, but he is able to walk again. The department did not provide any details on protective measures or scene safety.

Fire Prevention Duty
A 36-year-old firefighter suffered burns while setting up for the community’s annual fireworks display. He was one of eight firefighters who were participating, all of whom were required to wear protective clothing without self-contained breathing apparatus during setup.

The firework rounds had been placed on top of the tubes, and the victim was beginning to connect the fuses and drop the rounds into the tubes. As he connected the fuses, the friction between the synthetic shirt he was wearing under his turnout gear and the gear itself created an electrical spark that ignited the round. The fire then spread to the entire arsenal of fireworks. 

All eight firefighters were able to get to safety without major injuries. Two who took cover behind a vehicle were dazed but uninjured after a round exploded near them. They did not require treatment. The firefighter who created the spark suffered minor burns to his hand and face. He was wearing eye protection at the time. He was able to return to firefighting duties 15 days later.

The department has modified its standard operating procedures to ensure that clothing made of synthetic fibers is not allowed under turnout clothing.

Training Incident
A three-person engine company was performing unspecified on-duty training when one firefighter was injured. The officer and a firefighter stepped off the vehicle as the driver placed the apparatus in reverse. At that moment, the driver suffered an unspecified medical emergency causing him to lose consciousness. As he lost consciousness his foot pushed the accelerator and the truck began to move. The apparatus proceeded to back up at a high rate of speed down the road approximately 50 feet (15 m) and made a sharp left turn. It traveled approximately another 50 feet (15 m) and turned again, coming to rest against an occupied house. The officer and firefighter ran after the vehicle and immediately provided aid.

The driver did not suffer any injuries from the crash.  He was wearing his seatbelt at the time of his medical emergency.  He has still not returned to firefighting activities and his medical condition is being evaluated.

The truck caused structural damage to the home, destroyed fences and shrubs, and damaged landscaping.

Training
An instructor for the fire department’s new recruit class was seriously injured when he fell off the roof of an acquired building during a training evolution.

The victim, a 50-year-old company officer, was performing ladder evolutions alone on the medium-pitched roof, which was covered with snow. He felt it would be safer to clear the roof before continuing the evolutions, so he asked a student to retrieve a squeegee from the apparatus so he could wipe approximately ¾ of an inch (1.9 centimeters) of snow off.  He had cleared approximately 10 square feet (1 square meter) of shingles when his left foot slipped, and he fell approximately 16 feet (5 meters) to the cement driveway. 

The veteran officer, who landed on both feet and fell backwards, suffered severe back injuries, fractured heels, and a head injury.

Station Duty Apparatus Check
Several firefighters suffered electrical shock injuries while performing apparatus checks in the rear of the fire station.

As a firefighter knelt next to the truck, checking on some power saws, the apparatus operator checked the truck’s aerial by raising the aerial to about 75 degrees, fully extending the ladder, and rotating it to the officer’s side of the truck. When he lowered the ladder, he unintentionally struck a 230,000-volt transmission line, energizing the fire truck. There was an explosion, and electricity was transmitted through the ladder and outriggers into the fire station.

The firefighter kneeling next to the truck ran to a safe location when the concrete beneath him began spalling, and, encouraged by other members of the station, the operator on the turntable jumped off and away from the apparatus. All members retreated to a safe training area in the rear of the station.

The station and apparatus were damaged, although the department did not identify how much the damage cost. Three firefighters suffered electrical shock injuries, but all were able to return to firefighting activities. They had all worn protective clothing appropriate to the tasks they were performing.

Responding
Two firefighters suffered severe injuries after the apparatus they were riding was involved in a crash while responding to a reported structure fire. The apparatus was one of two apparatus responding together.

As they approached an intersection, both trucks opted to switch lanes into the oncoming travel lane to avoid traffic. At the time, there was no oncoming traffic. When the lead truck returned to the proper lane of travel, the operator of the second truck continued against traffic, driving parallel to the first truck. At the next traffic light, both pieces of apparatus failed to stop before turning left at 35 miles (56.3 kilometers) per hour. The driver of the second truck lost control of the vehicle, and it overturned onto its side, narrowly missing the first truck and a passenger vehicle.

The company officer, who was not wearing a seatbelt, suffered bilateral shoulder injuries and is still recuperating. The other firefighter, whose riding position was unknown, suffered a fractured neck and could not perform firefighting activities for 170 days. 

The department concluded that excessive speed, poor judgment, lack of seat belt use, and lack of proper supervision by a company officer were contributing factors in the crash. Mechanical failure, weather, and road conditions did not play a role.

The call they were responding to turned out to be an investigation, not a fire.