U.S. firefighter fatalities decline by 8% in 2023, reports NFPA

June 18, 2024

Decline in firefighter fatalities in 2023

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) released its “Fatal Firefighter Injuries in the U.S. in 2023” report, which shows a total of 89 on-duty firefighter fatalities in the United States in 2023, an 8% decline from the 97 fatalities reported in 2022.

As reported by the NFPA, the 89 deaths include 50 volunteer firefighters and 30 career firefighters, with the remaining nine fatalities being non-municipal firefighters.

This 2023 total is the second-highest number since 2013, when 98 on-duty deaths were recorded.

The report notes that much of the recent increase in reported fatalities is due to the inclusion of cardiac deaths and strokes or aneurysms occurring within 24 hours of duty, regardless of whether symptoms were manifested while on duty.

Reduction in career firefighter fatalities

The report highlights that reductions in the number of fatalities among career firefighters accounted for most of the overall decline, with a 23% drop from 39 deaths in 2022 to 30 in 2023.

Although heart attacks remain the leading cause of medical deaths among firefighters, there was a 20% decrease in career firefighter heart attacks, with 12 fatalities in 2023 compared to 15 in 2022.

The largest number of deaths, 32 fatalities, occurred on the fireground.

This number, while reflecting a downward trend since the late 1970s, is higher than the average for the previous 10 years and the highest since 2013.

Jay Petrillo, a fire data analyst at NFPA, noted: “The fatalities due to rapid-fire progression and structural collapses may be at least partially due to the fact that today’s fires burn hotter and faster.”

Overexertion and cardiac fatalities

Overexertion and strain accounted for more than half of the fatalities in 2023, with 48 sudden cardiac deaths.

The report emphasizes the importance of fitness programs, annual medical evaluations, and medical monitoring for cardiac health, particularly for volunteer firefighters who predominated the sudden cardiac deaths within 24 hours of duty.

Richard Campbell, a senior research analyst at NFPA, stated: “While the overall downward trend in the annual number of firefighter fatalities is an encouraging indication that injury prevention efforts through the years are having an impact, there is still a clear need for continuing attention to firefighter safety and health.”

Trauma and vehicle crash fatalities

Trauma injuries accounted for about one-third of the firefighter deaths in 2023, with 18 fatalities resulting from vehicle crashes.

This marks the highest number of vehicle crash fatalities since 2008.

The report also notes four multiple-fatality incidents in 2023, claiming the lives of more than one firefighter per incident, a decrease from the six multiple-fatality incidents recorded in 2022.

The NFPA’s study on firefighter fatalities was made possible through cooperation with various organizations, including the United States fire service, CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the United States Fire Administration, the U.S.

Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management.

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