Analysis of Firetruck Crashes and Associated Firefighter Injuries in the United States

Analysis of Firetruck Crashes and Associated Firefighter Injuries in the United States

New study came out last month in the Annals of Advances in Automotive Medicine entitled “Analysis of firetruck crashes and associated firefighter injuries in the United States.”  The authors state that there are some 30,000 firetruck crashes each year and that it represents the second leading cause of death of on-duty firefighters. Their research indicates that much more emphasis is needed on improving seat belt use.

Take the time to read the report. Additionally, a timely video production on Company Officer Responsibilities,  Shared responsibilities for Apparatus Engineer/Driver and the entire crew related to seat belt use, response mode, defensive driving and the need to arrive to make a difference…

Approximately 500 firefighters are involved in fatal firetruck crashes each year and 1 out of 100 of these occupants dies as a result of the crash. Despite changes in regulations that govern fire vehicle safety, the average fatality rate per year has remained relatively stagnant. Rollovers are the most common crashes that result in firefighter deaths (66% of all fatal firetruck crashes), and a majority of those fatalities were unrestrained occupants. Redesigning and improving firetruck restraint systems could reduce the number of injuries and fatalities that occur in firetruck crashes, but the restraint systems will only be effective if firefighters buckle them in while riding in the apparatus

Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of death for on-duty firefighters. Firetruck crashes, occurring at a rate of approximately 30,000 crashes per year, have potentially dire consequences for the vehicle occupants and for the community if the firetruck was traveling to provide emergency services. Data from the United States Fire Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that firefighters neglect to buckle their seatbelts while traveling in a fire apparatus, thus putting themselves at a high risk for injuries if the truck crashes, especially in rollover crashes. Despite national regulations and departmental guidelines aiming to improve safety on fire apparatuses, belt use among firefighters remains dangerously low. The results from this study indicate that further steps need to be taken to improve belt use. One promising solution would be to redesign firetruck seatbelts to improve the ease of buckling and to accommodate wider variations in firefighter sizes.

Each year, an average of 100 firefighters die and 100,000 firefighters are injured in the line of duty from a variety of causes including, but not limited to, extreme physical exertion, underlying medical conditions, and motor vehicle crashes (United States Fire Administration, 2011). The United States Fire Administration (USFA), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, cites motor vehicle crashes as the cause of death for between 20–25% of the annual line-of-duty fatalities. Motor vehicle crashes are the second highest cause of death for firefighters. The leading cause of death is stress and overexertion which accounts for approximately 50% of the fatalities. Other significant causes of death in the dataset include: caught/trapped (10%), fall (5%), collapse (3%) and other (7%) (United States Fire Administration, n.d.). Firetruck crashes, although rare in comparison to non-emergency vehicle crashes, tend to have grave consequences for firetruck occupants and for occupants in other vehicles involved in the crash. Despite revising national standards to improve firetruck safety and reduce firefighters’ risk of injury and fatality, the annual injury and fatality rate has remained essentially unchanged over the past decade.

The USFA has openly prioritized reducing firefighter risk as its number one goal (United States Fire Administration, 2010), intending to accomplish it through injury prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce the total number of line-of-duty injuries and fatalities.

This paper investigates the characteristics of fatal firetruck crashes and identifies some underlying issues that may lead to increased firefighter injury and fatality risk while riding in a fire emergency vehicle. The data presented comes from two different national databases with varying degrees of crash-level and occupant-level information.

 Analysis of Firetruck Crashes and Associated Firefighter Injuries in the United States REPORT HERE

Raleigh Rollover: This video was shot by the Seattle Fire Department and created by Nuvelocity for training, educational and safety purposes for the annual Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indiana. We edited their footage into a dramatic and powerful story.


From the NFFF/EGH program: (HERE)

On Saturday, November 17, members of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and Memorial Weekend Staff attended the Fireman’s Ball to present the Everyone Goes Home® Seal of Excellence to the department for its commitment to promoting firefighter safety.

“Under Chief John McGrath’s leadership, the Raleigh Fire Department has been a champion of firefighter safety and successfully has implemented the themes and concepts of the Life Safety Initiatives,” said Victor Stagnaro, director of fire service programs for the Foundation. “The department has focused on excellent customer service, professional service delivery and operational readiness through training and discipline. These characteristics epitomize the Seal of Excellence,” he explained.

A single incident reinforced the importance of fully embracing the tenets of the Initiatives. On July 10, 2009, Ladder 4, a tractor drawn aerial ladder, was involved in a single vehicle accident while responding to a report of a structure fire. Fortunately, there were no fatalities and all the members riding on the apparatus returned to work. Afterward, Chief McGrath and the members of the Raleigh Fire department committed themselves to preventing this type of incident from happening again.

The department sought out the best national training models to provide to its members. After researching the best practices related to apparatus driving, they joined forces with the Seattle Fire Department which was working on a comprehensive training program related to driving tractor-drawn fire apparatus. The result was an extensive training program for the apparatus drivers of the Raleigh Fire department and greater levels of protection and accountability within the organization. They also developed key points to remind all fire service members of the following:

  • Safety is First
  • Training is Essential
  • Wear Your Seatbelt
  • Control all Intersections
  • Be In Control of Your Apparatus
  • You Must Arrive to Make a Difference

The Raleigh Fire Department’s outreach did not stop there. In conjunction with the Seattle Fire Department, Raleigh chose to share the lessons learned and the heartfelt stories of the firefighters that were involved in the crash by developing a training video. Their willingness to openly discuss this close call took courage. But the lessons learned and the desire to prevent others from experiencing a similar event, perhaps one with a more tragic ending, took precedence. The Raleigh fire department pressed forward believing that the safety of firefighters is a crucial element in the culture of firefighting.

  • Seat Belt Pledge, HERE
  • Seat Belt Safety Resources from the NFFF/EGH: Here

Seatbelts: “No excuses”
Dr. Burton Clark, EFO, CFO, National Fire Academy
» Download: Seatbelts: “No excuses”

(Play from your Desktop – No Internet Connection Required)

Responding with Seatbelts
Denver Fire Department (CO)
» Download: Responding with Seatbelts

Hugh Lee Newell Story
Duane Hughes, Captain, Columbus Fire Department (MS)
» Download: Hugh Lee Newell Story

Seatbelt Safety on Fire Trucks
Special Thanks to Russell Rees, Chief Officer, and the Country Fire Authority, Australia
» Download: Seatbelt Safety on Fire Trucks

» VFIS Online Training Center: Seat Belt Safety

Take 5 for Safety – Drills

Driving: Don’t Be A Dummy, Take The Pledge
» Handout | Instructor Notes

Driving: Seat Belts Are The Key
» Handout | Instructor Notes

Driving: Seat Belts Are Vital
» Handout | Instructor Guide

Driving: Seat Belts Make Sense
» Handout | Instructor Guide

Driving: We Aren’t Ready Until We Buckle Up!
» Handout | Instructor Guide

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