NFPA reports historic lows of on-duty firefighter deaths

Under 50 U.S. firefighters died while on duty last year, the lowest number of deaths reported since 1977, the year the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) began issuing an annual report.

In addition, there were no multiple-fatality incidents – also a first for the report – as well as an all-time low in volunteer firefighter deaths, deaths in road vehicle crashes, and cardiac deaths.

Overall, 48 firefighters died while on-duty in the U.S. in 2019, a sharp drop from recent years, where deaths average 65 per year. Of the 48 fatalities, 25 were volunteer firefighters, 20 were career firefighters, and one each was an employee of a state land management agency, an employee of a federal land management agency and a civilian employee of the military.

Overexertion, stress, and medical issues accounted for by far the largest share of firefighter deaths, as has been the case in past years. Of the 26 deaths in this category, 22 were classified as sudden cardiac deaths (usually heart attacks); two were due to strokes; one, due to heat stroke; and one death was by suicide.

NFPA’s study focuses on on-duty deaths tied to specific events that occur while firefighters are at work, but the hazards of firefighting also include long-term exposure to carcinogens and other contaminants, as well as physical and emotional stress and strain.

In 2019, a firefighter who was shot at an EMS call represents the ninth firefighter murdered on-duty in the past 10 years.

Studies have shown that years spent in the fire service can take a toll on a firefighter’s health, both physical and emotional, and can also result in exposures to toxins that eventually result in job-related cancer, cardiac, and suicide deaths that are not represented in this report.