Saving firefighters’ lives
Despite all of the emphasis that NFPA and the fire service have placed on better measures to protect the lives of firefighters, the disturbing fact is that firefighting is just as dangerous a job today as it has ever been.
According to NFPA’s U.S. Firefighter Fatalities Report, 103 on-duty firefighter deaths occurred in the
Recently, NFPA joined with the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Firefighters, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the United States Fire Administration, and a number of other organizations in National Firefighter Safety Stand Down Day to focus public attention on the serious need to protect the health and safety of firefighters.
NFPA has been in this battle for a very long time and we have committed significant resources to this cause. Standards such as NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program; NFPA 1710, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments; and NFPA 1720, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations for the Public by Volunteer Fire Departments; are widely used by fire departments all over the country and there is no doubt that they are contributing much to a safer environment for firefighters.
However, a particular emphasis must be placed on efforts to keep firefighters healthy. NFPA 1582, Comprehensive Occupational Medical Program for Fire Departments, sets out medical requirements for firefighters and NFPA 1583, Health-Related Fitness Programs for Fire Fighters, addresses fitness. The importance of these programs to reducing firefighter fatalities is brought home when we examine the largest single cause of firefighter on-duty fatalities, heart attacks.
A special NFPA report on firefighter fatalities notes that over the 10-year period studied in the NFPA report, 440 firefighters - 43.7 percent of those who died on the job - experienced sudden cardiac death (heart attacks and other heart-related sudden death), typically triggered by stress or exertion.
In its report of firefighter fatalities for 2004, NFPA reports that 47 percent of on-duty firefighter fatalities for that year were because of heart attacks, and consistently heart attacks have been the leading cause of deaths among firefighters. As a U.S. Fire Administration report said, “Firefighting is extremely strenuous physical work and is likely one of the most physically demanding activities that the human body performs.”
Recognizing that firefighting is always going to be extremely stressful and is inherently dangerous work, the fire service has taken the lead in reducing deaths by establishing programs like the IAFF/IAFC Health and Wellness Program and the NVFC Heart Healthy programs.
We recognize that it isn’t enough to look just at issues like training, deployment and protective clothing and equipment if we are going to make a real dent in the number of firefighter fatalities. Ensuring that firefighters are healthy before we ask them to take on this dangerous job might be the single biggest thing we can do to save firefighters’ lives.