Lessons to learn from NFPA's fatality report

We owe it to our fallen comrades to change our own behaviors

By Chief Adam K. Thiel
FireRescue1 Editorial Advisor

Last week I attended the National Fire Protection Association Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. NFPA's annual Firefighter Fatality Report for 2009 was released at the conference with some positive news, but few surprises in how firefighters continue to fall while serving their communities.

The 82 on-duty firefighter deaths recorded by NFPA in 2009 represents the lowest annual total since 1993; it is also below the 10-year annual average of 98 and a substantial reduction from the 105 fatalities recorded in 2008.

NFPA's Rita Fahy reminded everyone that while a drop over one year certainly isn't enough to show a trend, it is definitely encouraging to see the number of firefighter fatalities drop well below the 10-year average.

Speaking of trends: sudden cardiac death was once again the leading cause of firefighter fatalities in 2009; 27 firefighters perished on the fireground; 20 firefighters were killed responding to, or returning from, emergency calls; and 11 died during training activities.

Notwithstanding the lower-than-expected annual total, which is certainly good news, it's important to recognize that many of the 2009 on-duty firefighter deaths analyzed by NFPA were preventable; just as they were in 2008, 2007, 2006, and preceding years.

As a service, we owe it to our fallen comrades, and their survivors, to learn from this report; more importantly, we owe it to them to change our own behaviors and take personal responsibility for (hopefully) making 2009 the first year of a continued downward trend.

The full report contains great detail on the causes and types of on-duty firefighter deaths and you can access it through the NFPA website at www.nfpa.org.

About the author

With more than two decades in the field, Chief Adam K. Thiel — FireRescue1's editorial advisor — is an active fire chief in the National Capital Region and a former state fire director for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Chief Thiel's operational experience includes serving with distinction in four states as a chief officer, incident commander, company officer, hazardous materials team leader, paramedic, technical rescuer, structural/wildland firefighter and rescue diver. He also directly participated in response and recovery efforts for several major disasters including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Tropical Storm Gaston and Hurricane Isabel.

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