Author(s): Michael J. Karter, Jr., Joseph Molis. Published on November 1, 2010.

A firefighter is rushed to an ambulance at the scene of an apartment complex fire in North Carolina. More than 50 firefighters were involved in the three-alarm, predawn fire. (Photo: AP/Wide World)

2009 U.S. Firefighter Injuries

NFPA Journal®, November/December 2010 

By Michael J. Karter and Joseph L. Molis

 Download the full "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2009" report (PDF, 128 KB)
 Read the "U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2009" feature

Structure Fire
A 58-year-old firefighter was injured as the result of a fire in a single-family home that began when it was struck by lightning. The victim, who was wearing a full protective ensemble, performed overhaul operations using his self-contained breathing apparatus for approximately 15 minutes. After completing his assignment, he began rolling hose and picking up equipment at the scene. Overall, he wore his full protective ensemble for approximately 30 minutes on a warm, humid day.


 Download the full "U.S. Firefighter Injuries - 2009" report (PDF, 128 KB)
 Read the "U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2009" feature


 Firefighter Injuries for 2008
 Firefighter Injuries for 2007
 Firefighter Injuries for 2004  (PDF, 332 KB) 


  • 78,150 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2009, a decrease of 1.9 percent from the year before.

  • 32,205, or 41.2 percent, of all firefighter injuries occurred during fireground operations. An estimated 15,455 occurred at nonfire emergencies, while 17,590 occurred during other on-duty activities.

  • The Northeast reported a higher number of fireground injuries per 100 fires than other regions of the United States.

  • The major types of injuries received during fireground operations were strains, sprains, and muscular pain, responsible for 48.2 percent; wounds, cuts, bleeding, and bruises, responsible for 13.2 percent; and smoke or gas inhalation, responsible for 6.2 percent. Strains, sprains, and muscular pain accounted for 58.9 percent of all nonfireground firefighter injuries.

  • The leading causes of fireground injuries were overexertion and strains, responsible for 25.2 percent, and falls, slips, and jumps, responsible for 22.7 percent.

  • For the full 2009 injuries report, visit

Following the fire, he drove the three-person engine back to the station. After parking it inside, he complained of not feeling well and collapsed in cardiac arrest on the apparatus floor less than an hour after clearing the fire scene.

Members of the station immediately began resuscitation efforts, and an advanced life support ambulance took him to the hospital, where he was revived. He remained hospitalized for 12 days. The department indicates he left the fire service six months later.

Apparatus Crash 
Two firefighters were injured when their apparatus overturned while they were responding to a reported building fire. The ladder truck, carrying three firefighters and an officer, was out of the fire station performing routine activities when it was dispatched.

After getting the call, the driver immediately pulled the truck to the side of the road so all four members could don their protective clothing according to department policy. He then continued the response.

As the apparatus approached an intersection, the driver attempted a left-hand turn at high speed and rolled the 75,000-pound (34,019-kilogram), three-axle, tractor-drawn ladder truck onto its roof.

The company officer, who was not wearing his seatbelt, suffered a closed head injury and injured his right leg. He returned to full duty nearly a month after the crash.

The driver of the tiller was wearing his seatbelt, but he suffered head, face, and arm lacerations. He was hospitalized for several hours and returned to full duty two weeks after the crash. The other two firefighters on the apparatus were unhurt. The driver was wearing his seatbelt, but the fourth firefighter was not.

The reported structure fire call they were responding to turned out to be a pot that had been left on the stove.

Apparatus Crash
One firefighter was injured when the tanker truck he was operating overturned while he was responding to a reported motor vehicle crash.

The crash occurred when the rear passenger wheels dropped off the blacktop of a two-lane road that had no shoulder and drove into the soft dirt. As the driver tried to steer the truck back onto the roadway, he overcorrected, turning the tanker into oncoming traffic. The driver made a second correction, steering the truck to the right, but the truck slid sideways and overturned. According to the fire department, his seatbelt prevented him from being ejected.

The driver, who had three years’ experience, managed to extricate himself from the wreckage. He was treated for several fractured ribs and a concussion by personnel responding in an apparatus that had been following the tanker. He returned to full firefighting activities six weeks after the crash.

Firefighter Struck by a Car
Two firefighters were injured while treating a victim at the scene of a car crash when a 16-year-old girl approaching the crash scene ignored warning flares and a police officer on traffic control, and hit one of the cars involved in the original crash. The parked car spun around and struck the two firefighters who were treating the victim on the tailboard of the fire engine. The firefighters were able to push their patient out of the way before the spinning car hit them.

The driver then struck another vehicle before fleeing the scene. Police apprehended her several miles away and accused her of driving under the influence. No other information about the teenager was available.

One of the injured firefighters, a 31-year-old man with five years’ experience, suffered bruising to his knee and calf. The second firefighter, a 46-year-old man with almost five years’ experience, suffered a bruise to his thigh. Both were cleared to perform firefighting duties the next day.

Both firefighters were wearing proper protective clothing, including turnout coats and pants, boots, helmets, gloves, and reflective vests, which the department partly credits in limiting their injuries. The department did not provide any information about apparatus placement at the scene.

Car Fire
An 18-year-old firefighter was hurt at a car fire when he approached the front driver’s side corner of the burning vehicle to pry open the hood. A pressurized hood strut failed, shot through the front of the vehicle a few inches above the driver’s side headlight, and impaled the firefighter’s right leg.

At the time of the injury, the firefighter was in a full protective ensemble and using his self-contained breathing apparatus. After being struck, he said he felt a burning sensation and pulled the shaft from his right thigh just above his knee. He was taken to the hospital, where he remained for a day. He was able to return to full firefighting activities 14 weeks after the incident.

Training Accident
One firefighter was injured during a live fire exhibit meant to demonstrate the effectiveness of residential sprinklers. The exhibit involved two mocked-up rooms, one with a sprinkler system and one without, that were furnished as typical college dorm rooms and set on fire.

The room without sprinklers was ignited first and reached flashover nearly five minutes after ignition. As the crowd watched the fire intensify, three firefighters handling a charged hose line positioned themselves near the front of the room.

Extinguishing the main body of fire as they went, they moved closer and started stepping into the smoldering room, where a piece of burning plastic placed across the top of the mock-up began to melt and drip on them. At first, the crew didn’t realize the molten plastic was still burning. They were alerted of the situation and extinguished the plastic 35 seconds after it dripped on them.

The company officer was injured and was treated at the hospital overnight with burns to his face and hand. He returned to firefighting activities 27 days later. All three men were wearing full protective ensembles and used self-contained breathing apparatus, which the department credits with limiting their burns. All the equipment was cleaned, inspected, and returned to service.

Gas Explosion
An engine company and an ambulance arriving at the scene of an early-morning car crash found two heavily dented parked cars. The four firefighters from the truck were assessing the scene when bystanders told them that another car involved in the crash had struck a commercial building 200 yards (183 meters) up the street.

As they approached the car on foot, they found that the crash had exposed part of a large utility room in the building. When they got closer, they smelled a strong odor of natural gas and saw water leaking from the damaged structure.

The company officer and the apparatus driver headed back to the fire engine, where the driver donned his protective clothing and returned to the crash site with his tools. Joining the other two firefighters, who were already wearing protective coats, pants, and helmets, and had moved closer to the car to check for injured occupants, he placed the forked end of a halligan bar over the gas shut-off valve to close it.

When the three men realized that gas was still flowing freely, they decided the problem was much worse than they originally thought and decided to back away from the building. As soon as the firefighters turned to retreat, an explosion rocked the neighborhood, catapulting the fleeing men.

The driver suffered musculoskeletal injuries to his lower back, right shoulder, right arm, and right knee, but was able to get up and help the company officer, who had not yet reached the crash site when the gas exploded, tend to a firefighter covered in rubble. The driver is currently awaiting his fourth surgery and has not yet been cleared for firefighting duties.

The firefighter trapped under the rubble injured his shoulder and his back, and suffered a concussion. He underwent surgery on his shoulder and is still undergoing treatment for his injuries.

The explosion launched the third firefighter across the street, where the ambulance crew found him unconscious and in respiratory arrest. They immediately rendered advanced life support treatment and successfully resuscitated him at the scene. He had a 2-inch (5-centimeter) avulsion on the palm of his hand, and a 3-inch (8-centimeter) laceration to the back of his head. He was hospitalized for two days and monitored for a closed head injury.

The driver of the vehicle involved in the crash fled the scene. The police investigating the incident found that the vehicle had been stolen several blocks from the scene.

Structure Fire
A 40-year-old chief officer fractured his tibia when part of the second floor of a house where he was leading fire suppression activities collapsed.

The three-alarm fire began in the void between the first and second stories of the house, which covered nearly 4,000 square feet (372 square meters). Immediately after the collapse, a report of two firefighters down was transmitted, and the incident commander called for a third alarm assignment and a personnel accountability report.

Within four minutes, all companies were accounted for. A four-member dedicated rapid intervention team was deployed, but it was not needed because the injured officer managed to extricate himself.

The victim was wearing a complete protective ensemble, including a manual PASS device, which he did not activate. He made a full recovery and resumed firefighting activities 35 days after the incident.

The fire department indicated that the cause of the fire was accidental but did not provide any specific information.