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C2.1 Firefighter Fatality Statistics for 1999-Fahy RF

Since 1977, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has collected data annually on all on-duty firefighter fatalities in the U.S. This presentation will provide an overview of fatalities over the past 23 years, focusing on the deaths in 1999. Topics to be covered include the types of duty during which the fatalities occurred, the cause and nature of the fatal injuries, the ages of the victims, and details on fireground fatalities.

Over the past two decades, we have found that there are two major problem areas that together account for the majority of firefighter deaths - heart attacks and motor vehicle crashes. Examination of available medical data has consistently shown that four out of every five firefighters who died of heart attacks had had prior heart attacks, bypass surgery and/or severe, detectable levels of arteriosclerotic heart disease. When looking at the motor vehicle crashes, we find that the majority of victims are volunteer firefighters, a large share of whom were responding to emergencies in their own vehicles.

And finally, the trends over the past 20 years will be reviewed, highlighting the types of injuries that have virtually disappeared as protective equipment and training have improved but also looking at less encouraging trends in fatality rates per million structure fires over a span of time when the number of structure fires has been declining.


C2.2 Fire Fatality Investigations: The NIOSH and IAFF Programs-Duffy RM

When a fire fighter makes the ultimate sacrifice, we usually say that he or she died in the line of duty. The fact of the matter is that fire fighters don't die peacefully in the line of duty, they are killed-often abruptly and violently. All too often, the investigations into a fire fighter's death were incomplete, inaccurate, or inconclusive. In those cases, we never able to find out what, if anything went wrong. Rarely did anyone take responsibility for a fire fighter's death.

It has been the position of the 235,000 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters that fire fighter's death must receive a thorough and unbiased investigation. After extensive lobbying by the IAFF, President Clinton, in 1998, directed the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) to investigate all line-of-duty fire fighter fatalities. Since the inception of this program, the NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program has detected several significant hazards to fire fighters and has made a significant change in protecting the health and safety of our members.

Whether the fault for the loss lies with inadequate resources and staffing, poor incident command, bad communications, lack of training, equipment failure, or human error-NIOSH and the IAFF are committed to uncovering the truth.


C2.3 Overview of Program from a Volunteer Perspective-Schafer H

The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) participated in a workshop to determine the level of detail, content and distribution of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) Fire Firefighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program.

The purpose of the program is to determine factors that cause or contribute to firefighter deaths suffered in the line of duty.  The outcome of the reports are distributed in many ways including mailings to the major fire service organizations and postings on the NIOSH website.

The reports are beneficial to the volunteer fire service for a variety of reasons. These include prevention of firefighter death and injury. The NVFC has used the informative reports to educate the volunteer fire service through its newsletter and website. Oftentimes, the recommendations made require additional funding for equipment, training, etc. The NVFC educates members of Congress through the reports as well.

Most recently, a report identified that if firefighters involved in a wildland fire had had more equipment, lives may have been saved. This type of equipment is made available to volunteer firefighters through the Volunteer Fire Assistance program. This program is woefully underfunded and receives $24 million in annual requests when less than $3 million is awarded. If proper funding were in place, firefighters lives may be saved.


C2.4 NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program-Braddee R

The United States currently depends on approximately 1.2 million fire fighters (about 210,000 career/paid and 1 million volunteers) to protect its citizens and property from losses caused by fire. The National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration estimate that on average, 105 fire fighters die on the job each year (1986-1995 data), and in 1995 alone, 95,000 fire fighters were injured at work.

In Fiscal Year 1998 Congress allocated funds to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address the continuing national problem of occupational fire fighter fatalities and injuries. The objectives of this effort by NIOSH include the investigation of all occupational fire fighter fatalities to assess and characterize the circumstances surrounding these events for the purpose of developing, evaluating and disseminating prevention recommendations to fire fighters and fire departments across the country. The investigations are conducted to gather information on factors that may have contributed to the traumatic occupational fatality. For each case investigated, data are collected on factors associated with the agent (mode of energy exchange), the host (the fire fighter who died) and the environment. These factors are identified during the pre-event, event, and post-event phases. These contributory factors are investigated in detail in each incident, and are summarized in the investigation report, along with recommendations for preventing future incidents.

The national initiative by NIOSH to prevent fire fighter fatalities and injuries will result in substantial new information which will be of importance to fire fighters, fire departments, State fire marshals, researchers, and others interested in the protection of fire fighters. It is imperative that this and existing information are readily accessible to those who can intervene in the workplace and use it for the development of recommendations and guidelines to prevent fire fighter injuries and deaths.


C2.5 Hazards and Fires Involving Oxygen Regulators-Washenitz FC

Over the past 5 years, there have been over 16 reports of aluminum regulators used with oxygen cylinders burning or exploding. These incidents caused severe burns to over 11 emergency medical service providers, health care workers, and patients. Many of the incidents occurred during emergency medical use or during routine equipment checks. The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program has investigated 3 incidents concerning fire fighters who had been severely burned by oxygen regulator fires. In the course of these investigations, NIOSH sought outside expertise in and outside the federal government, and learned of previous cases. Evidence suggests that aluminum in these regulators was a major factor in both the ignition and severity of the fires, although there were likely other contributing factors. Recommendations to minimize the occurrence of future incidents were made in reports summarizing these investigations. Additionally, NIOSH and the FDA jointly released a Public Health Advisory alerting fire departments, safety officers, biomedical engineers, nursing homes, emergency transportation services, rescue squads, state EMS systems, hospital administrators, home health care agencies, and risk managers of the hazards that may exist with aluminum regulators. NIOSH is currently involved in a project with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a positive ignition test. The test is being developed and proposed to the American Society for Testing Materials as a possible standard, which would require that all regulators be tested before distribution to consumers. A training video is also being developed by the FDA and NIOSH concerning the hazards involved with oxygen systems. The video will demonstrate the safe handling of oxygen systems and will be disseminated to emergency medical service and health care providers.


C2.6 Oxygen Regulators Testing and Standards- Stoltzfus J

Investigation of recent medical oxygen regulator fires indicates that promoted ignition of vulnerable regulators has occurred with increasing frequency, resulting in catastrophic burnout and injury to equipment operators. In February 1999, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Food and Drug Administration issued a joint public health advisory regarding explosions and fires in oxygen regulators used in medical and emergency applications.  In response, the ASTM Committee G-4, along with several oxygen equipment manufacturers, is developing a standard entitled, "Standard Test Method for Evaluating the Ignition Sensitivity and Fault Tolerance of Oxygen Regulators Used for Medical and Emergency Applications." The intent of this provisional standard is to develop a test method that will fairly evaluate the ignition sensitivity and fault tolerance of oxygen regulators used in medical and emergency applications.

The most recent draft of the standard was sent to the Committee G-4 Test Methods subcommittee for ballot in July. The results of the ballot will be discussed at the Fall 2000 committee meeting in Paris, France in September. It is hoped that agreement can be reached regarding all the important issues related to the standard so that it can be released as a provisional standard after the September meeting. The standard is being treated as a provisional standard. This status will allow the test method to be developed and validated so that it can be upgraded to a full consensus standard as soon as possible. Meanwhile, manufacturers who need a tool to evaluate new regulator designs can use the test method.

The standard provides an evaluation tool for determining the fault tolerance of oxygen regulators. A fault tolerant regulator is defined as 1) having a low probability of ignition as evaluated by rapid pressurization testing and 2) having a low consequence of ignition as evaluated by forced ignition testing. The rapid pressurization test is performed according to International Standards Organization 10524, Section 11.8.1, which is similar to Compressed Gas Association E-4. In this test, the regulator is repeatedly subjected to rapid pressurization with oxygen. The heat from the compression of gas in the regulator is the ignition source. The method determines the resistance to ignition by the pressure surge that occurs each time the upstream valve is opened.

The consequence of ignition is evaluated by burning an ignition pill at the inlet of the regulator. The ignition pill, which is designed to simulate the burning of possible contaminants or components that are typically found in medical and emergency oxygen systems, is ignited by the heat of compression from the same system used in the rapid pressurization test. A regulator is considered fault tolerant when consumption of the ignition pill has occurred without external breach of any pressurized regulator component or ejection of molten or burning metal or ejection of any internal parts from the regulator.




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Page last updated: March 2001
Page last reviewed: March 2001
Content Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Division of Safety Research