Firefighter deaths dropped in the 1970s and 1980s, largely due to improvements in protective clothing, breathing equipment and radio communication, explained DeJoy. In the last decades, fatality numbers actually edged upward while the number of fires has gone down, he said. On average, more than 100 firefighters die on the job in the U.S. each year, which is three times higher than the fatality rate for the general working population. "There's a lot of interest to see what is going on," DeJoy said.
The number one cause of death identified in the study was not smoke inhalation or traumatic injury, but cardiovascular events. Eighty-seven of the 213 deaths examined in the study were cardiac-related. Deaths from cardiovascular events resulted in two predominant recommendations from the researchers: the need for improvements in medical screening and the need for wider adoption of mandatory fitness/wellness programming.
Many of the recommendations can be traced to a lack of finances, said DeJoy. Not only does under-resourcing affect the ability of a fire department to acquire innovative technology, it can lead to a shortage of personnel at a fire, compromising rapid intervention and the ability to maintain command and control functions during operations, he said.
DeJoy acknowledged that there is a certain amount of subjective interpretation that goes into analyzing incident investigations. In addition, NIOSH investigations are not mandatory and can be refused by a fire department. NIOSH also mostly investigates deaths involving career, or paid, firefighters, although a majority of firefighters in the U.S
|Contact: David DeJoy|
University of Georgia