U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2009 Report Released

Based on survey data reported by fire departments, the NFPA estimates that 78,150 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2009.

This is a decrease of 1.9 percent from the year before. In recent years, the number of firefighter injuries has been considerably lower than it was in the 1980s and 1990s, but this is due in part to additional survey questions about exposures that allow us to place them in their own categories. Previously, some of these exposures might have been included in total injuries under other categories.

In 2009, NFPA estimates that there were 23,000 exposures to hazardous conditions such as asbestos, radioactive materials, chemicals, and fumes. This amounts to 22.5 exposures per 1,000 hazardous condition runs.

An estimated 15,150 injuries, or 19.4 percent of all firefighter injuries, resulted in time lost from work in 2009.

These are some of the key findings in the U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2009 report. Each year, using data collected during our annual Survey of Fire Departments for U.S. Fire Experience, NFPA studies firefighter injuries to provide national statistics on their frequency, extent, and characteristics.

  • This year’s firefighter injury report includes an estimate of the total number of firefighter injuries in 2009, estimates of the number of injuries by type of duty, and an estimate of the number of exposures to infectious diseases.
  • It also covers trends in firefighter injuries and rates, fireground injuries by cause, fire department vehicle accidents and resulting firefighter injuries, the average number of fires and fireground injuries per department by population of community protected, and descriptions of selected incidents that illustrate firefighter safety problems.

 
Firefighters work in varied and complex environments that increase their risk of on-the-job death and injury. A better understanding of how these fatalities, non-fatal injuries, and illnesses occur can help identify corrective actions that could help minimize the inherent risks.

Injuries by type of duty
Type of duty is divided into five categories:

  • responding to, or returning from, an incident, including fires and non fire emergencies;
  • participating in fireground operations, including structure fires, vehicle fires, and brush fires, from the moment of arrival at the scene to departure time, including setup, extinguishment, and overhaul;
  • operating at non fire emergencies, including rescue calls, hazardous materials calls such as spills, and natural disasters;
  • training; and
  • participating in other on-duty activities such as inspection or maintenance.

Not surprisingly, results by type of duty indicate that the largest share of injuries occurs during fireground operations.

In 2009, 32,205, or 41.2 percent, of all firefighter injuries occurred during fireground operations. That number is the lowest recorded during the 1981-to-2009 period and represents a 53.3 percent drop in fireground operations injuries since 1981, which saw a high of 67,500 over that same period.

The number of fires also declined steadily during that period, for an overall decrease of 52.3 percent. The rate of injuries per 1000 fires has not shown any consistent trend up or down for the period. These results suggest that even though the number of fires and fireground injuries declined similarly during the period, the injury rate did not, and when there is a fire, the fireground injury rate risk has not changed much for the period.

Overall for the 1981-to-2009 period, the number of injuries at non fire emergencies increased from 9,600 in 1981 to 15,320 in 2009, for an overall increase of 66 percent.

  • For the same period, the number of non fire emergencies increased a substantial 220 percent, due in large part to an increase in the number of medical aid incidents.
  • The injury rate per 1,000 non fire emergencies declined during the period, from 1.24 in 1981 to 0.62 in 2009, because the number of non fire emergencies increased at a higher rate than did the number of injuries at non fire emergencies.

Nature and cause of fireground injuries
Estimates of 2009 firefighter injuries by nature of injury and type of duty indicate that the major types of injuries that occur during fireground operations are

  • strains and sprains, which were responsible for 48.2 percent;
  • wounds, cuts, bleeding, and bruises, responsible for 13.2 percent; smoke or gas inhalation, responsible for 6.2 percent;
  • burns, 7.1 percent; and
  • thermal stress, responsible for 5.8 percent.

Results were fairly consistent during all non fireground activities, with strains, sprains, and muscular pain accounting for 58.9 percent of all non fireground injuries, and wounds, cuts, bleeding, and bruises accounting for 16.2 percent. “Cause” here refers to the initial circumstance leading to the fireground injury.

The leading causes of fireground injuries were

  • overexertion and strains, which were responsible for 25.2 percent, and
  • falls, jumps, slips, which were responsible for 22.7 percent.
  • Other major causes were contact with object, responsible for 11.4 percent, and exposure to fire products, responsible for 12.9 percent.

Fireground injuries per department by population and region
The NFPA examined the average number of fires and fireground injuries per department by population of community protected in 2009.

  • These tabulations show that the number of fires a fire department responds to is directly related to the size of the population protected and that the number of fireground injuries incurred by a department is directly related to its exposure to fire—that is, the number of fires the department attends.
  • The second point is clearly demonstrated when we examine the range of the statistic: they run from an average high of 83.9 fireground injuries for departments that protect communities of 500,000 to 999,999 to a low of 0.2 for departments that protect communities of less than 2,500.
  • The overall range of rates varied from a high of 3.3 for departments that protect communities 250,000 to 499,999 to a low of 1.3 for departments that protect communities of 5,000 to 9,999.
  • Thus, the wide range noted in average fireground injuries by the size of the population protected narrows when relative fire experience is taken into account.
  • The overall injury rate for departments protecting communities with a population of 50,000 or more was 2.7 injuries per 100 fires, or 40 percent higher than the injury rate for departments protecting communities with populations under 50,000.

The NFPA also examined the risk of fireground injury per 100 firefighters by size of community protected. Larger departments generally had the highest rates, with departments protecting communities of 250,000 to 499,999 having the highest rate of 7.8 injuries per 100 firefighters. As community size decreases, the rate drops steadily to a low of 0.8 for departments protecting fewer than 2,500 people. That is a more-than-nine-to-one difference in risk of injury between communities of 250,000 to 499,999 and the smallest communities of less than 2,500.

An explanation for this difference is that, although a department protecting a community with a population of 250,000 to 499,999 has, on average, more than 24 times as many firefighters as a department protecting a population of less than 2,500, the larger department attends more than 95 times as many fires and, as a result, incurs considerably more fireground injuries.

An evaluation by region of the country shows that the Northeast reported a higher number of fireground injuries per 100 fires for most community sizes where all departments reported sufficient data.

FIREFIGHTER INJURIES BY THE NUMBERS – 2009

  • 78,150 firefighter injuries occurred in the line of duty in 2009, a decrease of 1.9 percent from the year before.
  • 32,205, or 41.2 percent, of all firefighter injuries occurred during fireground operations.
  • An estimated 15,455 occurred at non fire emergencies, while 17,590 occurred during other on-duty activities.
  • The Northeast reported a higher number of fireground injuries per 100 fires than other regions of the United States.
  • The major types of injuries received during fireground operations were;
  • strains, sprains, and muscular pain, responsible for 48.2 percent;
  • wounds, cuts, bleeding, and bruises, responsible for 13.2 percent;
  • smoke or gas inhalation, responsible for 6.2 percent.
  • Strains, sprains, and muscular pain accounted for 58.9 percent of all non fireground firefighter injuries.
  • The leading causes of fireground injuries were;
  • overexertion and strains, responsible for 25.2 percent, and
  • falls, slips, and jumps, responsible for 22.7 percent.

This posting is a summary from the NFPA; Refer to the Full Article Posting on the NFPA web Site HERE

U.S. Firefighter Injuries in 2009 report, HERE

NFPA Fire Statistics, HERE

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