About the Program

In 1998, Congress recognized the need to address the national problem of work-related firefighter deaths, funding NIOSH to implement a firefighter safety initiative.

The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention Program (FFFIPP) conducts independent investigations of firefighter line-of-duty deaths and recommends ways to prevent deaths and injuries.

We are a public health program and do not:

  • enforce compliance with state or federal job safety and health standards
  • determine fault or place blame on fire departments or individual firefighters.

Since our program’s start, we have investigated approximately 40 percent of firefighter deaths. We prioritize investigations using a decision flow chart pdf icon[PDF – 33 KB]. Investigation priorities may change based upon the review of fatality data for leading risks to firefighters and on fire service stakeholder input.

As part of our decision to initiate an investigation, we prioritize investigations using a decision flow chartpdf icon and evaluate whether an incident fits within one of two fatality types — medical or traumatic injury. An investigation results in a report describing the incident and recommendations for preventing similar events.

Medical Deaths

National Fire Protection Association data show that sudden cardiac death is the most common type of line-of-duty death for firefighters. Our investigations assess personal and workplace factors. Personal factors include individual risk factors for coronary artery disease, while the workplace evaluation:

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  • Estimates the acute physical demands placed upon the firefighter
  • Estimates the firefighter’s acute exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Assesses fire department coronary artery disease screening efforts
  • Assesses fire department efforts to develop fitness and wellness programs

Traumatic Injury Deaths

Our program investigates fireground and non-fireground fatalities resulting from a variety of circumstances, such as:

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  • Motor vehicle incidents
  • Burns
  • Falls
  • Structural collapse
  • Diving incidents
  • Electrocution

NIOSH experts in personal protective equipment and respirators may also assist with investigations where the function of protective clothing and respiratory protective equipment may have been a factor in the incident. They evaluate the performance of the protective clothing and/or self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) and conduct evaluations of SCBA maintenance programs.

To learn from firefighter fatalities and prevent similar events.

  • Better identify and define the characteristics of firefighter line-of-duty deaths
  • Recommend ways to prevent deaths and injuries
  • Disseminate prevention strategies to the fire service

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We participate on a number of National Fire Protection Association and other consensus standard setting committees. This allows us to directly submit key findings from our investigations to organizations and committees best positioned to influence change to improve firefighter safety and health.

Page last reviewed: November 22, 2019