Report: NFPA's "Firefighter Fatalities in the US in 2020"
Author: Rita F. Fahy and Jay T. Petrillo
Issued: October 2021
Firefighting is a dangerous profession, and a growing body of research and data show the contributions that job-related exposures have in chronic illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease, and in behavioral health issues that may end in suicide. These deaths and injuries are in addition to the incident-specific deaths and injuries that occur while on-duty. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently undertook two large studies focused on firefighter cancer and concluded that firefighters face a 9 percent increase in cancer diagnoses, and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths, compared to the general population in the U.S. NIOSH has also reported on the risk to firefighters of cardiovascular conditions. Firefighter suicides are tracked by the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.
NFPA’s own work in this area focuses on the deaths and injuries of firefighters that are due to specific events while on-duty.
- There were 140 on-duty firefighter deaths in 2020. Seventy-eight were due to COVID.
- Of the 62 non-COVID deaths:
- Twenty-seven were volunteer firefighters, 23 were career firefighters, eight were contractors to state and federal land management agencies, two were employees of a federal land management agency, and two were members of the military.
- The largest share of deaths occurred while firefighters were operating at fires or explosions (20 deaths).
- Overexertion, stress, and medical issues accounted for more than half of the deaths (34 deaths).
- Fifteen firefighters died in vehicle-related incidents, including 14 firefighters who died in vehicle crashes (six of them in five aircraft crashes) and one who was struck by a vehicle.
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