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Firefighter fatalities in the United States

Report: NFPA's "Firefighter Fatalities in the US in 2021"
Author: Rita F. Fahy and Jay T. Petrillo
Issued: August 2022

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.



Report highlights

  • There were 135 on-duty firefighter deaths in 2021. Sixty-five were due to COVID.
  • Of the 70 non-COVID deaths:
    • Thirty-five were volunteer firefighters, 27 were career firefighters, seven were contractors to state and federal land management agencies, and one was a member of an industrial fire department.
    • The largest share of deaths occurred while firefighters were operating at fires or explosions (28 deaths).
    • Overexertion, stress, and medical issues accounted for more than half of the deaths (40 deaths), including 29 sudden cardiac deaths.
    • Sixteen firefighters died in vehicle-related incidents, including 10 firefighters who died in vehicle crashes and six who were struck by vehicles.
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