Study author Rita Fahy, NFPA's applied research manager, presented the new findings at an education session this morning at the 2018 NFPA Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, [but] 2017 shaped up to be a very unusual year in a lot of ways," she told session attendees. "There was a lot of good news."
In addition to the reported 40-year low for total on-duty firefighter fatalities, there was also a low number of deaths reported on the fire ground in 2017, at 17—the second lowest since 1977.
Not all the report's findings were good news, though. The number of firefighters who died being struck by vehicles jumped to 10 in 2017, a sharp rise from the typical average of about four. "It could be that this year was an anomaly," Fahy said, "so we'll have to wait and see if this is a pattern. ... If it continues , then it's an area we're going to have to look at."
Although the report didn't examine firefighter fatalities from the long-term effects of the job, Fahy as well as Ed Conlin, manager of NFPA's Public Fire Protection division, discussed these issues with session attendees. Data shows that substantially more firefighters—active and retired—die from cancer and suicide than those who die from on-duty injuries. The Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance reported 91 firefighter suicides and 17 EMT and paramedic suicides in 2017, and the International Association of Fire Fighters reported more than 120 cancer-related firefighter deaths last year.
Contamination control is an important part of reducing firefighter cancer deaths, and Conlin spoke about how, slowly, fire service culture is changing to limit exposure to harmful toxins. "[Being covered in soot] is not the badge of honor it was anymore," he said. "It's rapidly becoming a badge of horror." Conlin pointed to several efforts by NFPA to study the issue and incorporate it into its myriad of codes and standards affecting the fire service.
An in-depth look at the findings of the NFPA firefighter fatality report will appear in the July/August issue of NFPA Journal. The full report has already been posted on nfpa.org and can be found here.