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Heart attacks leading cause of firefighter deaths in 2015

NFPA's 2015 report examines the cause of deaths and their historical trends


QUINCY, Mass. — The National Fire Protection Association said sudden cardiac death was the leading cause of firefighter on-duty deaths in 2015.

According to the NFPA report, "Firefighter Fatalities in the United States — 2015," 68 firefighters died on duty. Of those, 32 were volunteers and 24 were career firefighters. The others were federal or state employees or contractors.

Twenty-four firefighters died at a fire scene, 31 of those from sudden cardiac death. There were two incidents where more than one firefighter was killed; one involved a vehicle crash, another a wall collapse.

Image: National Fire Protection Association
Image: National Fire Protection Association

Volunteer firefighters who died had a much higher average age than did career firefighters, with 62 percent being older than 55. The largest career firefighter age bracket was 41 to 50, which accounted for 46 percent of the deaths.

There were three wildland firefighter deaths. One firefighter was murdered while on duty; one died by suicide.

NFPA defines on duty as being on scene, traveling to or from the scene, being on standby or engaging in training or other official department duties. NFPA does include deaths that occur some time after the injury and counts them in the year when the injury took place.

NFPA says it cannot estimate deaths from things like cancer and heart disease caused by long-term exposures because there is not enough reliable tracking data.

The report says there has been a substantial reduction in the number of deaths from vehicle crashes, but says it is too early to consider this a trend. There were three firefighters killed in vehicle crashes in 2015, all were volunteer firefighters. 

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