Published on July 2, 2018.

Selected 2017 On-Duty Firefighter Fatality Incidents

These incident summaries illustrate some of the issues and concerns in firefighter safety and health. When there is an NFPA standard applicable to an incident, that document is identified. By doing so, NFPA is not intending to assert causation, assign responsibility, or offer an opinion as to compliance with those standards. The intent is to provide a reference to inform and educate readers about specific topics. Free access to all NFPA standards is available online.


A crew of inmate firefighters was tasked with clearing brush and tree limbs along a road in a remote mountainous region with limited access. On the first day at the work site, a safety briefing was held and work began on the project. On the third day, the crew was picking up piles of limbs and brush that had been cleared and placed along the side of the roadway, and placing the piles of debris in a chipper.

While the crew was working near the fully throttled chipper, their supervisor heard two loud pops. He saw a large tree falling toward the crew.

The supervisor immediately yelled and warned the crew that a tree was falling from the steep hillside. None of the crew members reacted and branches from the tree struck and injured one of the inmates. The top 18 feet (5.5 meters) of the 146-foot-tall (44.5-meter) tree struck a 26-year-old inmate firefighter in the head, neck, and chest while he was working near the chipper.

Nearby firefighters that witnessed the tree fall grabbed a trauma bag and began life saving measures, including cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The supervisor attempted to call for help but due to the remote location his messages were not transmitted. He ran approximately 400 yards (122 meters) downhill and down the road to use his radio to request a medical response.

Once the advanced life support unit arrived, paramedics pronounced the victim dead approximately an hour after he had been struck.

Several lessons learned were identified by the reporting organization, including that the tree was identified as a hazard but was estimated to be outside the work area. Another issue was that the crew could not hear the supervisor’s warning due to the noise of the chipper.


A local fire department responded to a reported fire in a single-family home with a ground floor area of approximately 660 square feet (61 square meters). Upon arrival, firefighters encountered a bedroom fire on the second story of the wood-frame home.

First-arriving companies began an aggressive interior attack, stretching a hose line up the interior stairs and knocking down the flames. Fire investigators determined that an occupant discarded cigarette butts into a trash barrel and then took a shower. Flames grew out of the trash can and the fire quickly extended to the room and contents. Smoke alarms were located on the first floor but did not operate. The occupant got out of the shower, saw the smoke, exited the building, and dialed 911.

A 21-year veteran firefighter wearing a full protective ensemble helped companies advance the hose line up the front stairs. Once the hoseline was in place, he proceeded to perform overhaul of the second-story bedroom. Crews in the area assisting with overhaul found him on the floor unconscious in cardiac arrest. They called a mayday and removed him from the building.

The 54-year-old victim did not have a known medical history. After an autopsy, the fire department reported that his cardiac arrest was caused by overexertion.


A fire department responded to a report of a transformer issue and dump truck crash. Upon arrival, firefighters found a dump truck tangled in the power lines at a “Y” intersection. The intersection was not blocked but the power lines were crossed over both roadways.

Nearly an hour after arriving on scene, the power company arrived. Three firefighters wearing reflective vests were standing off the roadway in a gravel area in the middle of the “Y” intersection awaiting direction from the incident commander who was conferring with power company representatives.

A small car approached the scene and left the road, moving into the gravel area in the “Y” intersection and striking the three firefighters before fleeing.

Two firefighters suffered severe blunt force trauma and were pronounced dead at the scene. One was a 53-year-old firefighter and the other an 80-year-old deputy chief. The third firefighter, a 15-year veteran of the department, suffered two broken ribs and a bruised leg.

The 31-year old driver of the vehicle was apprehended approximately six miles (9.6 kilometers) from the scene of the crash and was charged with driving under the influence.


A 42-year-old firefighter collapsed into cardiac arrest while cleaning firefighting equipment after a structure fire.

The department had responded to a fire in a wood-frame pole barn at 2:19 a.m. The cause of the fire was listed as unintentional. A heat lamp had been placed too close to combustible materials in the barn to keep several pets warm during the night.

The victim, who had a year of experience on the department, had arrived on one of the first fire companies on scene. He performed suppression operations in a full structural firefighting protective ensemble including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). The incident commander rotated the victim’s crew into rehabilitation where the victim, along with other members of his company, swapped out their SCBA cylinders and rested for approximately 10–15 minutes. After rehabilitation, the victim donned his full structural firefighting protective ensemble with SCBA and performed overhaul. After the incident was mitigated, he returned to the firehouse and began cleaning equipment and tools and preparing the apparatus for the next emergency response.

After saying goodbye to the victim, the chief left the firehouse at approximately 5:30 a.m. and went home. Sometime around 9:15 a.m., the victim’s fiancé called the chief and fellow firefighters stating the victim had not returned home from the fire. Firefighters found the victim dead on the apparatus floor.


During a multi-day deployment on a large wildland fire, a task force of several engine companies was ordered to establish a fire break with two bulldozers and several helicopters.

As the dozers finished up the fire line, the group began to re-establish the anchor point. A lookout point was established and a safety zone was identified in the burned area. As a hose line crew advanced along the dozer line, they extinguished spot fires near the edges. Crews reported a flare-up in the unburned area. The firefighter operating the nozzle of a 700-foot (213-meter) hand line noticed a spot fire flare-up approximately 20 feet (6 meters) from the fire line in the tall unburned fuel.

The 32-year-old firefighter reached the small fire when additional spot fires ignited around him, trapping him. The firefighter requested air support using his portable radio and began traveling parallel to the recently cut fire line, but his escape route was cut off. The safety spotter called out over the radio to “get out of there.” A mayday was called and acknowledged by the incident commander. Air support, additional ground units, and an advanced life support ambulance were dispatched to the area.

The trapped firefighter turned down the hill, but two other fires erupted in front of him. He was running through chest- to head-high vegetation, trying to escape. The safety spotter and helicopter crews could see the top of his helmet as he ran through the vegetation. They witnessed him disappear in thick vegetation.

Six helicopters began saturating the area with fire retardant and water, eventually cooling the area so firefighters could enter the last location where the victim had been seen. They located him in a deep gulch approximately 30 minutes after the mayday. He had not deployed his shelter and was wearing all proper protective clothing. The eight-year veteran succumbed to thermal burns and smoke inhalation.


A fire ignited in a bedroom of a single-family wood-frame home. A 29-year-old firefighter responded to the scene in his personal vehicle.

He exited his vehicle and instead of grabbing supply hose, he grabbed a three-inch pre-connected hose line off an engine at the scene and wrapped it around a fire hydrant. He then went over to his car, which was parked several feet away, and began donning his protective clothing.

As he was getting dressed, the fire engine pulled away from the hydrant. The pre-connected hose line untangled from the hydrant and the nozzle from the three-inch pre-connected hose line struck the firefighter in the head.

The 12-year veteran was transported to the hospital with traumatic head injuries. He succumbed to his injuries several days later.


Late in the evening on a warm, windy night, a local fire department responded to a reported fire in a shopping complex. Upon arrival, firefighters observed a large amount smoke emanating from the roof of the large strip mall and incident command was established. The incident commander immediately requested a second alarm due to potential fire spread.

The first engine and ladder companies forced entry through the front doors of a gym. A hand line was stretched to the doors and they entered the gym. Crews reported low visibility and were advancing the hand line while on their knees. Two firefighters from the ladder company were assigned to search the gym. They began a right-hand search as they passed the firefighter on the nozzle of the hose-line.

Approximately 10 minutes into the fire, another engine company in the rear of the structure reported flames coming from the roof. A minute later, the firefighters from the ladder company searching the gym reported to the commander that they had located the fire in the attic area in the gym and they began pulling down ceiling tiles. The members on the hose line reported a rapid buildup of heat as their thermal imaging camera showed all white. They opened their line but it had little to no effect on the rising heat levels.

Fifteen minutes into the incident, the incident commander ordered everyone to evacuate the building. The two members from the ladder company performing a search became disoriented and called a mayday. They transmitted several more times but the messages were unintelligible.

A rapid intervention team (RIT) was deployed under the command of a battalion chief leading the rescue operations. They located one of the overcome firefighters and removed him nine minutes after the RIT entered the building. He was rushed to the hospital aboard an advanced life support ambulance. He suffered extensive burns and was admitted to the intensive care burn unit.

A second RIT was sent in to locate the other missing firefighter. Nearly 45 minutes into the incident and 19 minutes after his partner was rescued, the victim was located and removed from the building. He was pronounced dead at the scene. One firefighter was injured during the rescue efforts, suffering from smoke inhalation and exhaustion.

The fire department examined all protective clothing and did not find any major defects with their protective ensembles. The victim was a 31-year-old firefighter with six years’ experience. His cause of death was listed as conflagration injuries. The manner of death was listed as homicide.

The cause of the fire was determined to be incendiary and arson charges were filed against an owner of one of the occupancies.


A 29-year-old firefighter suffered critical injuries during training on the upper floors of a local six-story hotel. Several fire companies were participating in the drill. The victim was a member of a ladder company.

The training plan was communicated to all members and an operational briefing was held prior to the start of the evolution. Personnel participating in the drill were wearing complete structural firefighting protective ensembles, including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA).

The operator of the ladder truck positioned the apparatus in front of the hotel and the aerial ladder was raised to the roof at a 73-degree angle and extended 86 feet (26 meters). As the aerial was being raised, two firefighters raised a 35-foot extension ladder to a second-story fire escape balcony. They returned to the apparatus, donned their SCBA, grabbed the roof kit, and climbed onto the pedestal.

Three firefighters began to ascend the aerial ladder. Approximately 60 feet (18 meters) up the ladder, the lead firefighter fell, landing on the ladder’s pedestal. He was treated at the scene and transported to a local trauma center. The firefighter succumbed to his traumatic injuries several days later.

The department issued a brief report after the incident and had its members review the inherent dangers of carrying equipment while climbing ladders.


A 54-year-old firefighter suffered traumatic injuries when the mobile water supply vehicle she was driving crashed.

The truck left the roadway and tipped over while responding to a structure fire in a residential occupancy. After tipping onto its side, the truck struck an embankment. The fully loaded tank detached from the truck and crashed into the cab, killing the firefighter.


A crew of inmate firefighters was cutting a fire line in steep terrain approximately two miles (three kilometers) from a wildfire. The cutting teams decided to leapfrog each other along the fire line. They completed about 70–80 feet (21–24 meters) of fire line when they came across a rock outcropping with a steep drop-off.

During the operation, a 22-year-old inmate firefighter lost his balance and his momentum carried him off the outcropping. He inadvertently straddled his chainsaw, which lacerated his upper right thigh just behind his Kevlar chaps, severing his femoral artery. Nearby firefighters began treatment including a tactical tourniquet. The incident commander requested an advanced life support ambulance. The firefighter was transported by ground and pronounced dead at the emergency room.