Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of land burn across the United States and wildland fire fighters (WFFs) are asked to protect our lives, our homes and our forests. But fires are unpredictable and dangerous. Between 2000-2013, almost 300-duty WFF fatalities occurred. 2 Common hazards faced on the fire line can include burnovers/entrapments, heat-related illnesses and injuries, smoke inhalation, vehicle-related injuries (including aircraft), slips, trips, and falls and others.3. In addition, due to prolonged intense physical exertion, WFFs are at risk for heat related illness and rhabdomyolsis.
NIOSH offers resources for fire departments, fire fighters, and partner organizations to prevent on-duty injuries, illnesses and deaths from hazards and exposures associated with fighting wildfires.
CDC and NIOSH also provide resources for responders in conducting rescue and clean-up activities.
- New NIOSH Partnership with U.S. Forest Service –Missoula Technology and Development Center
Recently, NIOSH and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) signed a new partnership agreement to advance worker safety and health among wildland fire fighters. NIOSH and USFS/MTDC will have the unique opportunity to coordinate and collaborate safety and health research among wildland fire fighters. For more information, contact Corey Butler at (303) 236-5953 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- A Week to Remember, Reflect and Learn
This summer will mark the 20-year anniversary of the South Canyon Fire (Storm King) accident, that occurred on July 6, 1994, and the one-year anniversary of the Yarnell Hill Fire accident, that occurred on June 30, 2013. Although these accidents were separated by 19 years, they are bound together by several tragic similarities. Both accidents were burnovers; resulted in multiple fatalities of highly trained, skilled, and experienced wildland fire fighters; and both occurred during devastating wildfire seasons in which 34 wildland firefighters lost their lives in the line of duty, 19 at at Yarnell Hill and 15 at South Canyon.
The wildland fire community has designated the week of Monday, June 30 through Sunday, July 6 as “A Week to Remember, Reflect and Learn,” to honor the memories of all fallen wildland fire fighters and to reflect on lessons learned from different types of wildland fire accidents. They invite and encourage all local, state, and federal agencies with roles and responsibilities in wildland fire suppression to participate in this commemoration as they see fit.
Wildland Fire Fighting: Hot Tips to Stay Safe and Healthy
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-158 (September 2013)
Every year, hundreds of thousands of acres of land burn across the United States and wildland fire fighters (WFFs) are asked to protect our lives, our homes and our forests. But fires are unpredictable and dangerous. In fact, over 200 on-duty WFF fatalities occurred between 2001 and 2012.
NIOSH Wildland Fire Fighter Safety and Health Blog
Wildland fire fighting can be a dangerous occupation. The men and women fighting theses fires face many hazards. Read more on the NIOSH Science Blog
Rhabdomyolysis: What Wildland Fire Fighters Need To Know
Wildland firefighters are at increased risk for rhabdomyolysis. This document defines rhabdomyolysis, identifies the sign and symptoms and what to do if a fire fighter has symptoms.
Preventing Heat-related Illness or Death of Outdoor Workers
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-143 (May 2013)
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers have a plan in place to prevent heat-related illness. The plan should include hydration (drinking plenty of water), acclimatization (getting used to weather conditions), and schedules that alternate work with rest. Employers should also train workers about the hazards of working in hot environments.
Promoting Hearing Health among Fire Fighters
NIOSH Publication No. 2013-142 (May 2013)
Provides recommendations to promote better hearing health through the use of quieter equipment, better work practices, hearing protection devices, and implementation of effective hearing loss prevention programs.
Worker Safety During Fire Cleanup
CDC Fact Sheet details types of hazards that workers may face during fire clean up efforts, including electrical hazards, carbon monoxide poisoning, musculoskeletal hazards, heat stress, hazardous materials, & confined spaces.
Preventing Fire Fighter Fatalities Due to Heart Attacks and Other Sudden Cardiovascular Events
NIOSH Publication No. 2007-133 (June 2007)
NIOSH recommends that fire departments and fire fighters follow established medical screening guidelines, adopt risk reduction measures during fire fighting operations, and develop and participate in comprehensive wellness/fitness programs.
Hazard ID: Fire Fighters Exposed to Electrical Hazards During Wildland Fire Operations
NIOSH Publication No. 2002-112 (January 2002)
NIOSH investigated two separate incidents in 1999 in which fire fighters died or were seriously injured from exposures to electricity while fighting wildland fires.
The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program conducts investigations of fire fighter line-of-duty deaths to formulate recommendations for preventing future deaths and injuries.
Recent FFFIPP reports on fighting wildfires have been listed. For a comprehensive listing of FFFIPP reports, please search the Fatality Investigation Reports.
- Forest Fire Service Fire Fighter Monitoring Prescribed Burn from Roadway is Struck and Killed When Smoke Obscures Visibility Following a Wind Shift – New Jersey, 2013
- Wildland Fire Fighter Suffers Sudden Cardiac Death During Campfire Patrol – New Mexico, 2013
- Volunteer Fire Fighter Dies in Tanker Crash En Route to Grass Fire – Indiana Wildland fire fighter trainee suffers sudden cardiac death during physical fitness exercise – California, 2012
- Wildland fire fighter trainee suffers sudden cardiac death during physical fitness exercise – California, 2012
- Wildland fire fighter dies from hyperthermia and exertional heatstroke while conducting mop-up operations – Texas, 2011
- Volunteer fire fighter dies and three fire fighters are injured during wildland fire – Texas, 2011
- Volunteer fire fighter dies and 5 volunteer fire fighters are injured during wildland urban interface fire – Texas, 2011
NIOSH conducts Health Hazard Evaluations (HHEs) to find out whether there are health hazards to employees caused by exposures or conditions in the workplace.
Some recent HHE reports related to firefighting have been listed below. For a comprehensive listing of HHE reports please search the HHE Database.
- Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 2011–0035, Extent of Rhabdomyolysis Among Wildland Firefighters-Idaho. (NIOSH Closeout Letter)
- Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 2008-0245-3127, Determining Base Camp Personnel Exposures to Carbon Monoxide during Wildland Fire Suppression Activities – California
- Health Hazard Evaluation Report, HETA 98-0173-2782, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado
Gaughan D, Siegel P, Hughes M, Chang C, Law B, Campbell C, Richards J, Kales S, Chertok M, Kobzik L, Nguyen P, O'Donnell C, Kiefer M, Wagner G, and ChristianiD. (2014) Arterial stiffness, oxidative stress, and smoke exposure in wildland firefighters. American Journal of Industrial Medicine: 57(7)748-756
Preventing Death and Injuries of Fire Fighters Operating Modified Excess/Surplus Vehicles
NIOSH Publication No. 2011-125 (December 2010)
Fire fighters may be at risk for crash-related injuries while operating excess and other surplus vehicles that have been modified for fire service use. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has summarized recommendations to prevent injuries and deaths while operating these vehicles.
Hazard ID: Traffic Hazards to Fire Fighters While Working Along Roadways
NIOSH Publication No. 2001-143 (June 2001)
The number of fire fighters struck and killed by motor vehicles has dramatically increased within recent years. This document details case studies and provides recommendations for prevention.
1National Interagency Fire Center. . Date Accessed: July, 2013.
2 Federal Emergency Management Agency, Fire Administration (US).  Firefighter Fighter Fatalities. Date accessed: July , 2013.
3 Britton C, et al., Epidemiology of injuries to wildland firefighters.
Am J Emerg Med. 2013 Feb; 31(2):339-45. [Epub 2012 Nov 15].
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