FIRE FIGHTER FATALITY INVESTIGATION AND PREVENTION PROGRAM
The United States currently depends on approximately 1.1 million fire fighters to protect its citizens and property from losses caused by fire. Of these fire fighters, approximately 313,000 are career and 823,000 are volunteers. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the U.S. Fire Administration estimate that on average, 100 fire fighters die in the line-of duty each year. In fiscal year 1998, Congress recognized the need for further efforts to address the continuing national problem of occupational fire fighter fatalities and funded NIOSH to implement a fire fighter safety initiative.
The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP) conducts investigations of fire fighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries. The FFFIPP is a public health practice investigation program. NIOSH investigators are not conducting their investigation to enforce compliance with State or Federal occupational safety and health standards and do not determine fault or place blame on fire departments or individual firefighters. The program’s goal is to learn from these tragic events and prevent future similar events through its recommendations. NIOSH does not investigate every fire fighter fatality. The FFFIPP has investigated approximately 40% of fire fighter deaths since the program's start in 1998.
Investigations are prioritized based on a consideration of a series of factors, as outlined in the Program’s decision flow chart [PDF - 33 KB] available on the FFFIPP website. Investigation priorities may change based on a review of fatality data on leading risks to fire fighters and stakeholder input. NIOSH conducts investigations of both career and volunteer fire fighter line-of-duty deaths. NIOSH is notified of a line-of-duty death in a number of ways, including notification by the United States Fire Administration (USFA), a fire department representative, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and State Fire Marshal's Offices. NIOSH may also learn of fatal events through media coverage before being notified by other agencies. NIOSH reviews each event and makes a determination as to whether or not to initiate an investigation. NIOSH may also investigate selected injury and near-miss events that represent the potential for new or emerging hazards to the fire service. A fire department’s decision to participate in the FFFIPP is voluntary. Participating fire departments and fire fighters recognize the value of an objective independent investigation process that focuses on developing recommendations to prevent future fire fighter injuries and deaths.
- Better identify and define the characteristics of line-of-duty deaths among fire fighters
- Develop recommendations for the prevention of deaths and injuries
- Disseminate prevention strategies to the fire service.
The program conducts investigations of fireground and non-fireground fatal injuries resulting from a variety of circumstances, such as motor vehicle incidents, burns, falls, structural collapse, diving incidents, and electrocutions. NIOSH staff also conduct investigations of selected non-fatal injury events that suggest the potential to identify new or emerging hazards. NIOSH staff with expertise in respirators and fire fighter protective clothing assist with investigations of incidents in which the function of respiratory protective equipment or protective clothing may have been a factor. Each investigation results in a report summarizing the incident and includes recommendations for preventing future similar events.
NFPA data show that sudden cardiac death is the most common type of on-duty death for fire fighters. NIOSH investigations of these fatalities include assessing the contribution of personal and workplace factors. Personal factors include identifying individual risk factors for coronary artery disease. The workplace evaluation includes the following assessments:
- Estimating the acute physical demands placed upon the fire fighter
- Estimating the fire fighter’s acute exposure to hazardous chemicals
- Assessing efforts by the fire department to screen for coronary artery disease
- Assessing efforts by the fire department to develop fitness and wellness programs.
FFFIPP posts all investigative reports onto the NIOSH Web site and notifies subscribers to the FF Safety Announcements of each posting. In addition to Web site postings, periodically, selected reports are packaged and mailed to fire departments and emergency medical services organizations across the country. NIOSH reports and publications are also distributed at major fire service conferences, training centers and other venues. All NIOSH reports and publications are public domain information and may be freely copied and reproduced for training and educational purposes.
Once notified of a fatality, NIOSH makes a determination as to whether to conduct an investigation. Factors that are considered include the type of event, and whether that type of event is a priority for investigation, and investigator workload [a decision flowchart is available on the FFFIPP website]. If the decision is made to conduct an investigation, a NIOSH representative will contact the fire department to enlist their cooperation and schedule a site visit. For traumatic injury deaths, NIOSH seeks to conduct a site visit within three weeks of the incident, and NIOSH investigators visit the incident site to gather information and take pictures and measurements. NIOSH investigators will review all applicable documents (e.g., department standard operating procedures, dispatch records, training records for the victim, Incident Commander and officers, the victim's medical records, (where applicable), coroner/medical examiner’s reports, death certificates, blueprints of the structure, police reports, photographs, and video). In incidents suggestive of potential performance problems with respirators or personal protective clothing, investigators will request that the equipment or clothing be sent to the NIOSH National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory for evaluation. Additionally, investigators will interview fire department personnel and fire fighters who were on the scene at the time of the incident. The interview process is voluntary and witnesses’ statements are not made under oath or reviewed by the witness. Because the interviews are not recorded, NIOSH investigators rely on their own notes from these interviews and the applicable documents to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the fatalities or injuries. NIOSH provides these descriptions in their reports solely for the purposes of providing context for the agency’s recommendations for preventing similar occurrences. NIOSH may work closely with other investigating agencies. When NIOSH does not have the necessary subject matter expertise, NIOSH will enlist the assistance of other experts, such as experts in motor vehicle incident reconstruction or fire growth modeling.
Once the investigation is completed, NIOSH will summarize the sequence of events related to the incident and prepare a draft report. Each department, union (if present), or family (where applicable because some draft reports includes personal or medical history) will have the opportunity to review this portion of the report in draft form to help ensure it is factually accurate. The report is then finalized with the addition of recommendations for preventing deaths and injuries under similar circumstances. In traumatic injury incidents NIOSH will enlist the assistance of fire service subject-matter experts to review the draft reports and recommendations. Once the fire department, union (if present), and family (where applicable) have received the final copy of the NIOSH incident report, it is made available to the public through the Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program website. The reports are anonymous and do not name the fire department, victim(s) or other fire fighters involved in the incident.
In addition to the incident reports developed by the program, NIOSH has produced other products related to fire fighter safety and health.
- Fire Fighter Fatality/Injury Reports and Other Related Publications. (Updated Annually) (1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636))
- Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters Operating Modified Excess/Surplus Vehicles.
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-125
- NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 2008-0241-3113, Evaluation of Chemical and Particle Exposures During Vehicle Fire Suppression Training (2010) [PDF - 4.85 MB].
- Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters using Risk Management Principles at Structure Fires.
NIOSH Publication No. 2010-153
- Preventing Exposures to Bloodborne Pathogens among Paramedics.
NIOSH Publication No. 2010-139
- Preventing Deaths and Injuries of Fire Fighters Working Above Fire-Damaged Floors.
NIOSH Publication No. 2009-114
- Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program: Leading Recommendations for Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities, 1998–2005
NIOSH Publication No. 2009-100.
- Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program Evaluation.
- The NIOSH Fire FighterFatality Investigation and Prevention Program
NIOSH Publication No. 2007-154.
- Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities Due to Heart
Attacks and Cardiovascular Events.
NIOSH Publication No. 2007-133.
- FDA AND NIOSH Public Health Notification:
Oxygen Regulator Fires Resulting from Incorrect Use
of CGA 870 Seals. June 19, 2006.
- Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters Due
to Truss System Failures.
NIOSH Publication No. 2005-132
- Preventing Deaths and Injuries to Fire Fighters during
Live-Fire Training in Acquired Structures.
NIOSH Publication No. 2005-102
- Divers Beware: Training Dives Present Serious
Hazards to Fire Fighters.
NIOSH Publication No. 2004-152
- Protecting Emergency Responders, Volume 3: Safety
Management in Disaster and Terrorism Response.
NIOSH Publication No. 2004-144
- A Summary of Health Hazard Evaluations: Issues
Related to Occupational Exposure to Fire Fighters,
1990 to 2001.
NIOSH Publication No. 2004-115
- Safety 1st - Railroad Crossing Safety for Emergency
NIOSH Publication No. 2003-121.
- Fire Fighters Exposed to Electrical Hazards During
Wildland Fire Operations.
NIOSH Publication No. 2002-112
- Fire Fighter Deaths from Tanker Truck Rollovers.
NIOSH Publication No. 2002-111
- Traffic Hazards to Fire Fighters While Working
NIOSH Publication No. 2001-143
- Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 2001-0043-2844 (2001) [PDF - 1823 KB], Madison Fire Department, Madison, Wisconsin
- Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters Due to Structural Collapse.
NIOSH Publication No. 99-146
- Fire Fighting Hazards During Propane Tank Fires.
NIOSH Publication No. 99-129
- FDA And NIOSH Public Health Advisory: Explosions and Fires in Aluminum Oxygen Regulators February 1999
- Preventing Worker Injuries and Deaths from Traffic-Related Motor Vehicle Crashes.
NIOSH Publication No. 98-142
- Exploding Flashlights: Are They A Serious Threat To Worker's Safety?.
NIOSH Publication No. 97-149
- NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Report HETA 94-0244-2431 (1994) [PDF - 327 KB], Memphis Fire Department, Memphis, Tennessee
- Preventing Injuries and Deaths of Fire Fighters.
NIOSH Publication No. 94-125
Video summary of FFFIPP Program recorded live by Fire Department Network News TV (FDNNTV) at the 50th IAFF Fire Fighter Convention in San Diego, CA on August 23, 2010.
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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