Fire Fighters Exposed to Electrical Hazards During Wildland Fire Operations


January 2002
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2002-112
Cover of Publication 2002-112

Among the various hazards fire fighters face are electrical hazards during wildland fire suppression activities. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 10 fire fighters died from contact with electricity during wildland fires between 1980 and 1999 (this figure does not include lightning strikes) [NFPA 2001]. As part of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program, NIOSH investigated two separate incidents in 1999 in which fire fighters died or were seriously injured from exposures to electricity while fighting wildland fires [NIOSH 1999a,b].

Fire fighters performing fire ground operations near downed power lines may be exposed to electric shock hazards through the following means [NWCG 1998; IFSTA 1998b]:

  • Electrical currents that flow through the ground and extend several feet (ground gradient)
  • Contact with downed power lines that are still energized
  • Overhead power lines that fall onto and energize conductive equipment and materials located on the fire ground
  • Smoke that becomes charged and conducts electrical current
  • Solid-stream water applications on or around energized, downed power lines or equipment

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Page last reviewed: June 6, 2014