Friday, July 17, 2009

Another perspective on firefighter fatalities

Let me start by saying... don't kill the messenger... I'm just putting something out there for thought and discussion. I am a huge proponent for firefighter safety. It is a topic I write and lecture about often.

I recently attended a seminar where the presenter was talking about the number of firefighters who die from heart attacks and vehicle accidents each year. In 2007, 52 firefighters died from heart attacks and 27 died in vehicle crashes. For comparison sake, there are an estimated 1,148,000 firefighters in America. This means the number of on-duty firefighter deaths per 100,000 population is 4.52 for heart attacks and 2.35 for vehicle accidents.

In the United States (2004) the average rate of death among the general population for vehicle accidents was 15.5 per 100,000 population.

If you applied the average vehicle accident death rate to the population of firefighters, that would equate to 177 deaths for a population of 1,148,000 firefighters.

In the United States (2005) the average rate of death among the general population for heart attacks was 222 per 100,000 population.

If you applied that average cardiac arrest death rate to the population of firefighters, that would equate to 2,548 deaths for a population of 1,148,000 firefighters.

If it were assumed that the population of firefighters were a mere snapshot of society, the statistics for vehicle deaths and cardiac arrest deaths are considerably lower.

To help normalize the data somewhat, you'd have to consider the firefighter deaths for vehicle accidents and cardiac arrest only count if the firefighter is on-duty. In other words, those firefighters who die from vehicle accidents and cardiac arrest off-duty are not part of the statistics listed above.

Assume for a moment (loosely, and without scientific basis) that the average firefighter is on-duty 500 hours per year (blending the on-duty time of career firefighters and volunteer firefighters). There are 9,125 hours in a year so the average firefighter (in this example) works 18.5% of the time and off-duty the rest.

If it were assumed that firefighters die at the same rate off-duty from vehicle accidents and heart attacks as they do when they are on-duty (and this is a big assumption, given the differences in stress levels on and off the job), the annual death rate from vehicle accidents would be 492 and 962 from cardiac arrests. Divide those numbers by the population of firefighters and you arrive at 43 vehicle accident deaths per 100,000 population of firefighters and 84 cardiac arrests per 100,000 population of firefighters.

Comparatively speaking to the general population (with deference to all of my assumptions), a firefighter is roughly 3 times more likely to die in a vehicle crash. However, the general population is more than 2.5 times as likely to die of a heart attack than a firefighter.
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  1. Bill F.F./E.M.T. Currituck, North CarolinaJuly 17, 2009 at 11:09 PM

    I think its a shame that we seperate on and off duty deaths. Most of us dont leave the job when we leave the station be it thinking what we could do different next call or shift or simply what we experienced during our tour be it career or vollunteer. And todays budget restraints dont help the off duty stress levels be it concern we will have a job or funds to operate or enough staffing to do our job safeley. It seems budgets could be cut better places other than Public Safety and the safety of the people who put it on the line 24-7-365 no matter weather condition,holiday's or situation we are called to with out question. We give up time from our personel life and families be it the Vollunteer who worked his regular job 12 hours and responds to help his neighbors and community or the Career person who got called back after busy 24 because it is his dedication to his calling. After all we are serving and protecting the very people that cut our funding but expect us to do our jobs the same way. And we are a rare breed and would never say we are getting 20 % less funds so we will serve 20 % less of our capability. Who else but us would do that?


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