Analysis of the Causes of Firefighter Deaths in Wildfires in the United States

ISK Fire Survival

At ISK, we have analyzed several studies that compile the causes of death of firefighters in wildfires and other scenarios related to their work in the United States. The summary of the main causes identified is as follows:

  1. Aviation-related deaths: Between 2000 and 2013, 26.2% of the 298 firefighter deaths in wildfires were aviation-related, including airplane and helicopter crashes. The main causes of these accidents were failures in the engine, structure, or components (24%), loss of control by the pilot (24%), failure to maintain distance from objects, terrain, or water (20%), and dangerous weather conditions (15%) (according to the study by Butler, O’Connor, & Lincoln, 2015).
  2. Heart disease deaths: Sudden death from heart disease is the most common cause of duty-related deaths among U.S. firefighters. Most of these deaths are associated with coronary heart disease and enlarged heart (cardiomegaly or left ventricular hypertrophy) (according to studies by Smith, 2018).
  1. Deaths related to heart disease are significantly associated with specific firefighter tasks, such as fire suppression (the highest risk), responding to alarms, returning from alarms, and physical training. Fire suppression presents the highest risk, which can be 10 to 100 times greater than that of non-emergency tasks. In this cause of death, ISK Fire Survival ® can exponentially increase the chances of survival.
  2. Cardiovascular risk factors: Obesity, hypertension, smoking, and the presence of previous cardiovascular disease are significant predictors of death from coronary heart disease among firefighters. These factors suggest the need for wellness programs and medical screenings aimed at the early detection and control of cardiovascular risk factors, according to Geibe’s 2008 analysis.
  1. Traffic fatalities: Traffic accidents while responding to emergencies or during training are also significant causes of firefighter fatalities. Source: Proudfoot and Husting, 2004.

These studies underscore the importance of safety measures, proper training, and risk management to prevent firefighter deaths in the line of duty. Adoption and adherence to existing recommendations regarding fitness standards, mandatory medical evaluations with appropriate work restrictions, and fire entrapment response protocols are crucial to preventing these fatalities