Author(s): Fred Durso, Scott Sutherland. Published on May 1, 2012.

A preview of the 2011 U.S. Firefighter Fatality Study

A firefighter stands in front of a burned-out truck that was destroyed by a wildfire in Texas in April 2011. A volunteer firefighter was killed when he fled the truck and was overtaken by the fire.

NFPA Journal®, May/June 2012

In 2011, 61 firefighters in the U.S. were fatally injured while on duty, marking the third consecutive year where on-duty fatalities have decreased significantly. There has been an average of 91 on-duty firefighter deaths per year in the U.S. over the past 10 years. 

Those are some of the key findings in the 2011 U.S. Firefighter Fatality Study, authored by Rita F. Fahy, Paul R. LeBlanc, and Joseph L. Molis of NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research Division. The complete report on the 2011 fatalities will be presented at the NFPA Conference and Expo in Las Vegas in June, and will appear in the July/August Journal. Other preliminary findings include:

  • Sudden cardiac death claimed the largest share of firefighters, or 49 percent.
  • Of the 61 firefighters killed in 2011, 35 were volunteer firefighters and 21 were career firefighters. Three were employees of state land management agencies and two were employees of federal land management agencies.
  • The largest share of deaths occurred on the fire ground, accounting for 49 percent of the on-duty deaths in 2011.
  • Deaths while firefighters were responding to or returning from fires and other emergency calls accounted for another 16 percent. Half of these fatalities were due to sudden cardiac death.
  • More than one-third of the deaths in 2011 occurred at structure fires, with fires in one- and two-family dwellings claiming the largest share of deaths.
  • By region, there were 27 firefighter deaths in the South, 15 deaths in the North Central states, 14 in the Northeast, and five in the West.
  • The victims ranged in age from 18 to 82.

Hot Season
Forecasters cite weather conditions and fuel supplies in their predictions for an active U.S. wildfire season. Plus, the dollars and sense of Firewise, and schooling youth on wildfires. 

By Fred Durso, Jr.

Colorado may have been the site of spring wildfires that dominated national headlines, but it’s by no means alone. Firefighters in New York, Tennessee, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, and elsewhere have already battled more than 100 large brush fires and wildfires this year, according to the U.S. Forest Service.


The aftermath of the Lower North Fork fire in Colorado in March, which killed three people and destroyed more than 4,000 acres.(Photo: AP/Wide World, David Zalubowski)

Communities in many more states across the country may soon be going on high alert, too, as forecasters warn of the potential for significant and widespread fire events during the current wildfire season. “Heavy loadings of fine [wildfire] fuels across … the U.S. ... are causing control problems and leading to some increased fire behavior when coupled with wind events,” according to the latest National Wildland Significant Fire Potential Outlook report, which analyzes the nation’s drought and fuel dryness conditions while making predictions on an area’s susceptibility to wildfire.

Produced by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), the nation’s support center for wildland firefighting, the report pinpoints drought and fuel dryness conditions as primary factors influencing the current outlook, which began in April and extends through July. Severe to extreme drought conditions have been occurring in parts of the upper Midwest, especially Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the Southeast coast, according to the report, while “worsening” conditions are occurring over much of the Southwest since the previous NIFC outlook report. Earlier this year, below-normal precipitation occurred in the Southwest, central Rockies, northern and central Plains, much of the Southeast, and New England. Above-normal temperatures are expected through July in the Southwest, East Coast, and Gulf Coast.

The outlook predicts “above normal” significant fire potential in certain areas of the Rocky Mountains in June and July. The same prediction was forecasted for the Southwest as well as parts of the Western Great Basin and Southern California. Above normal conditions will persist through July in portions of the South, particularly in Florida and Georgia, based on forecasted weather, fuel moisture, and drought risks.

“We need to understand the conditions that we’re facing today,” Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell told the Associated Press. “They’re different than what we used to deal with. These prolonged droughts ... affect the fire behavior that we see, and the more erratic weather that we’re seeing, especially throughout the country this spring, those are the things we have to factor in.”
The predictions for this year arrive on the heels of a dramatic 2011 fire season, which saw significant fire events from Minnesota to Florida to California. Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona all experienced the largest wildfires ever recorded in those states; in Arizona, the Wallow Fire alone burned some 841 square miles (2,178 square kilometers) and caused more than $100 million in damage.

This season’s opening round has focused on Colorado, where more than a dozen wildfires have already occurred. The most disastrous so far was the Lower North Fork fire in March, where fire managers lost control of a prescribed burn that eventually killed three people, damaged more than 20 homes, and burned more than 4,000 acres (1,619 hectares) southwest of Denver, according to The Denver Post. An investigation by the Forest Service and other organizations produced a report that cited an “abrupt pattern shift” in weather conditions in March that “resulted in one of the driest and warmest months on record.”

As advocates for wildfire preparedness, NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division is urging residents to safeguard their homes by adhering to principles of the Firewise® Communities Program. “The unusually dry weather means that wildfires pose a greater threat to individual properties and neighborhoods,” said Michele Steinberg, program manager of the Firewise Communities Program. “Residents can do their part and take simple steps today to lessen the risk of damage if a wildfire occurs.” Visit for more information.

The value of mitigation
Since formally recognizing communities 11 years ago, the Firewise Communities/USA Recognition Program has documented grant funding and volunteer hours totaling more than $100 million, according to an analysis conducted by NFPA’s Wildland Fire Operations Division.

The figure is the sum of all wildfire mitigation activities reported by communities as part of their requirements to be recognized as a Firewise community, including grant money, in-kind services, and volunteer hours. For communities to retain their Firewise status, they must devote $2 per capita worth of Firewise activities every year. In fact, NFPA’s analysis indicates these communities are going above and beyond the call of duty. “These investments show us that wildfire risk is proactively being reduced,” says Steinberg. “The big idea is that if all communities were reducing the risk of home ignition, we might see less need to spend big dollars on wildfire suppression.”

The $100 million figure will also benefit communities seeking grant funding for mitigation efforts. “Whenever we go to the U.S. Forest Service and other federal sponsors, we want to have a compelling argument as to why the Firewise Communities Program is working and the value you get for the investment,” says Hylton Haynes, associate project manager with the Wildland Fire Operations Division.

Another key statistic proving the program’s strength, adds Haynes, is that about three quarters of Firewise communities renew their recognition status annually. There are now more than 730 recognized communities, and NFPA anticipates increasing this figure to 1,000 by next year. “The whole impetus behind the Firewise program is awareness,” Haynes says. “Awareness leads to an action plan, which leads to action. That’s what really makes Firewise so special.”

Teaching kids a lesson
Cathy Prudhomme has joined NFPA as the associate project manager for Wildland Fire Youth Education. In this new position, Prudhomme will develop Firewise and wildfire safety educational programs for various age groups, from preschoolers to college students. Topics will include fire mitigation activities and understanding the role of fire in natural and manmade environments. She is currently coordinating focus groups with middle school and high school students in Colorado and Texas to discover what would help them better understand and prepare for wildfires.

Prudhomme was most recently a program manager for community preparedness with the Colorado Department of Public Safety. She’s also spent a decade with the Colorado Springs Fire Department, where she focused on Firewise outreach and public education endeavors. 

Live and in the Fur
How the new Sparky puppet was brought to life in time for this year’s Fire Prevention Week. 

By Fred Durso, Jr.

Take note, Kermit: there’s a new puppet in town that might make you even greener with envy.      

Giving its official spokesdog a three-dimensional upgrade, NFPA has developed a Sparky the Fire Dog® puppet that’s promoting this year’s Fire Prevention Week theme — “Have 2 Ways Out!” — via a series of videos and print media. Breathing new life into the 60-year-old spokesdog, who has gone through his share of cartoon makeovers, was a labor of love involving NFPA staff as well as designers and puppeteers. 



Years before the latest Muppets movie wowed audiences and resurrected the franchise, Steve Dornbusch, NFPA’s senior project manager for Public Education Products, was toying with the idea of creating what he describes as a “Muppets-style Sparky puppet.” Along with co-collaborator Scott Nash of NashBox, a graphic design studio that has produced numerous themes for Fire Prevention Week and has an extensive client list including the Walt Disney Co. and Nickelodeon, Dornbusch envisioned another breed of Sparky taking his fire safety messages to various platforms.

“We wanted to do something new, fresh, and different,” says Dornbusch. “Animation is wonderful, but with a puppet you’re able to do things animation can’t, such as interact with people.”

Puppeteer Tim Lagasse, who’s also concocted creations for Disney and the Jim Henson Co., was given the job of creating Sparky from scratch late last year, using NFPA guidelines to make sure his red-and-yellow fire gear is “up to code,” notes Dornbusch. After a series of modifications to the puppet’s foam head and torso, the nearly four-foot-tall Sparky was born. Lagasse brings him to life using a raspy voice and metal hand rods that maneuver the pup’s paws. “Tim has given this puppet such personality,” Dornbusch says. “Sparky’s very humorous, but still serious when it comes to fire safety messaging.” 

In his inaugural video at, Sparky introduces the FPW theme and Sparky’s Wish ListTM: Partnering for Fire-Safe Communities, the new program helping fire departments fund the purchase of FPW materials. Departments create a wish list of the materials they need, and donors can purchase the goods via an online registry.

What else is in store for the puppet? A music video and live-action short film—shot throughout Boston and including Sparky and a supporting cast, created by Nash — is on its way. Puppet Sparky also promises to make an appearance at NFPA’s Conference & Expo, June 11–14 in Las Vegas. “One of things I hope to see in the future is Sparky interviewing fire officials,” says Dornbusch. “We have a new studio at NFPA’s headquarters where fire officials can be interviewed, and the officials can air the videos via local access TV in their communities.”   

For more information on this year’s Fire Prevention Week — October 7–13 — and Sparky’s Wish List, visit

Candid Camera
A new video contest turns firefighters into spokespersons for health and safety

The perils of a firefighter’s job are evident by the quantity of their injuries — reported injuries in 2010 totaled nearly 72,000, of which nearly 33,000 occurred during fireground operations, according to NFPA statistics.

In an effort to reduce these figures, NFPA has partnered with the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) to create the Fire Service Video Contest. Career and volunteer firefighters, as well as other members of the fire service, are asked to submit videos demonstrating health and safety measures at their departments, while keeping creativity and enthusiasm in mind. The videos should adhere to practices mentioned in IAFC’s Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Survival and Incident Commanders and NVFC’s Rules of Engagement for Firefighter Health. Rules with an NFPA focus include ensuring accountability of a firefighter’s location and adhering to requirements in NFPA 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program. 

“These life- saving and risk-reduction activities demonstrate to the fire service how small steps will bring us to a day when no firefighter will die from a preventable cause,” says Ken Willette, the contest’s project coordinator and NFPA’s division manager for Public Fire Protection.

The videos will serve as a resource for the fire service, and the winner will be announced June 12 at NFPA’s Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. The submission deadline is May 11. For more information and submission guidelines, visit

— Fred Durso, Jr.

Journal Launches App + Digital Editions

Readers of NFPA Journal will soon be able to download the magazine to their iPads and iPhones through a special branded app and also read it in a fully hot-linked digital version available through the NFPA website.


The app will be available in June through Apple iTunes. The digital version is available now at

“These are great new ways for us to get Journal into the hands of NFPA members, whenever and wherever they want it,” says Scott Sutherland, Journal executive editor. “We recognize that many of our readers are highly mobile, and these new publishing technologies will help us keep up with those readers and how they interact with the magazine.”

The digital issue is web-based and presents all Journal stories and ads as they appear in the print magazine, with websites and email addresses clickable for instant access. The digital issue includes special versions for iPad, iPhone, and Android.

The Journal app will allow users to download the magazine and read it offline on their iPads or iPhones.

Members will receive information on the app’s availability, and how to get it, in the June NFPA Journal Update. For information on how to subscribe to Update, see the special promotion card insert in this issue.

Journal staffers will also be promoting the new app and digital issue at the NFPA booth at the Conference & Expo in Las Vegas.

‘A Legacy of Commitment’
NFPA mourns the loss of Harry Shaw, fire protection pioneer

Harry Shaw, a member of NFPA’s Technical Committee on Automatic Sprinkler Systems since 1987, died on March 2 at age 91.


Shaw worked in the field of defense weapons systems for many years before changing his career to fire protection. He joined the National Fire Prevention and Control Administration, the predecessor to the United States Fire Administration, where he was director of Home Fire Prevention and an early advocate for home smoke detectors, remote alarm systems, and residential sprinkler systems. He was a driving force behind the extensive tests on residential sprinklers in the 1980s that led to further refinements to NFPA 13D, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. In 1987, he proposed the idea of a low rise sprinkler design and installation standard that resulted in the development of NFPA 13R, Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies Up To and Including Four Stories in Height, in 1988.

His numerous other contributions to fire safety included use of smaller diameter pipe and non-metallic pipe in residential sprinkler systems. Most recently he served as CEO of a company that develops flame-retarding gel used to help fight wildfires.

Chris Dubay, vice president and chief engineer at NFPA, met Shaw years ago at a Residential Sprinkler Summit at the National Fire Academy. “During the first break, I introduced myself to Harry. After shaking my hand he looked me in the eye, and still holding my hand he said ‘Christian, our mission is to save as many lives as possible, period! If you keep that in mind you will do just fine.’

That has stuck with me to this day. With Harry’s passing, we’ve lost a man who, through his many years of service and advocacy, left a legacy of commitment to that mission.”

Green + Sprinklered
The Epcot theme park showcases a “green” building with sprinkler protection. Plus, highlights from a recent sprinkler summit and a new water-consumption study.

By Fred Durso, Jr.


Ron Jones, President of Green Builder Media, talks about the new VISION House® exhibit in INNOVENTIONS at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort.  

It’s easy going green.
That’s the takeaway following a tour of an innovative green home called VISION House®, located in INNOVENTIONS at Epcot® at the Walt Disney World® Resort. Complementing the exhibit’s electric vehicle and sustainable hardwood flooring are educational messages, sponsored by NFPA in cooperation with the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition (HFSC), about the environmental benefits of home fire sprinklers.

Representatives from Green Builder Media, a media company focused on green building, talked with NFPA earlier this year about its new Epcot attraction in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The company liked NFPA’s idea to add a sprinkler-messaging component during the 20-minute VISION House guided tour that would communicate the idea that sprinklers are environmentally friendly. According to a report conducted for HFSC, automatic fire sprinklers reduce water usage needed to fight a home fire by upwards of 90 percent. There are also significant reductions to water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and fire-damaged debris sent to landfills.

The home is sponsored by nine product makers and NFPA and officially opened on April 22, Earth Day.

Since VISION House is expected to draw nearly six million people through its doors annually, the potential to promote home fire sprinklers has never been greater, says Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Communications. “We’ve always recognized that there’s a continuing need to educate consumers on the value of sprinklers,” she says. “This new attraction allows us to get in front of so many people with not only a message about fire safety but with another side to the sprinkler story, which is the positive environmental impact.”

Sprinkler Summit
More than 100 fire service representatives and others convened in Chicago on April 2 for NFPA’s Home Fire Sprinkler Summit, a forum held to champion home fire sprinkler requirements.

Audiences heard from participants of NFPA’s Faces of Fire Campaign, which humanizes NFPA’s Fire Sprinkler Initiative through testimonials from sprinkler advocates. California State Fire Marshal Tonya Hoover, for example, discussed the steps that led to a statewide adoption of sprinklers in one- and two-family dwellings, while Canadian homebuilder Murray Pound explained why his company only builds sprinklered houses. Attendees also got the chance to break into regional groups to strategize about efforts to require sprinklers in their communities and state.

“We knew right from the start that we were going to run into opposition, especially from homebuilders, who have a great deal of influence and seasoned lobbyists working on their behalf,” NFPA President James Shannon said at the event. “But we are not discouraged, because the logic of our efforts will ultimately prevail.”

To read more about the summit, visit

Testing the waters
Results from a new report commissioned by the Fire Protection Research Foundation once again confirm that sprinklered facilities ultimately consume less water than unsprinklered buildings during a fire.

The study, Fire Flow Water Consumption in Sprinklered and Unsprinklered Buildings: An Assessment of Community Impact, examined water consumption in an array of structures — from one- and two-family dwellings to storage facilities — in six sample jurisdictions. In all scenarios studied, the calculated water use in unsprinklered buildings exceeded usage amounts in sprinklered facilities. The water used to suppress fires in sprinklered one- and two-family dwellings, for example, was between four and 10 percent of the water used in unsprinklered buildings.

The report also concluded that an owner of an unsprinklered building received the benefit of unlimited water through a public water system during a fire without an increased cost. The owner of a sprinklered building, however, pays for the water used for commissioning, inspection, testing, and maintenance of the sprinkler system. “We must make sure that the incentives for providing built-in fire protection aren’t offset by financial disincentives from water distribution fees,” says Gary Keith, NFPA’s vice president of Field Operations and Education. “It’s our hope that fire departments and water authorities will use this report as a basis for reviewing the policies in their own jurisdictions.”
The report further validates findings from the Foundation’s Residential Fire Sprinklers — Water Usage and Water Meter Performance Study released last year, indicating that the amount of water used to fight fire in unsprinklered homes is much higher than the amount discharged by a sprinkler system. Download both reports at

Journal Wins Association Publishing Awards

In April, we learned that NFPA Journal had been named the winner of two 2012 EXCEL Awards by Association Media & Publishing, a national membership organization for association publishers.

Journal won a silver award for general excellence among magazines with a circulation of 50,001 to 100,000. We also won a bronze award in the category of single-topic issue for last fall’s special issue on NFPA and the global wildfire problem. 

This is the second time in three years that Journal has been recognized for the EXCEL Awards. According to AM&P, a record number of entries were reviewed for this year’s awards.

My thanks to the staff of Journal for its hard work and dedication, to NFPA for its resources and continued support, and to readers for their feedback and willingness to help us develop timely and important stories on fire and life safety.

— Scott Sutherland, executive editor