Death Count for Volunteer Firefighters Falls to Record

The number of volunteer firefighters who died in the line of duty declined to a record in the U.S. amid efforts to improve the fitness of emergency personnel.

On-duty volunteer firefighter deaths fell to 30 last year, from 35 in 2012 and more than 75 in 1977 and 1978, the National Fire Protection Association said today in a report on its website. The overall firefighter fatality count, including paid personnel, was 64 last year, the second-lowest on record, with only 2011 having a smaller total.

“In 2012 we had the lowest number of cardiac-related deaths that we’ve seen since we started doing the study in 1977,” Rita Fahy, manager of fire database systems for the research and analysis division of the NFPA, said in a video on the association’s website.

Last year was the fifth straight in which sudden cardiac deaths declined as governments promote exercise and warns firefighters about the risk of tobacco use. Such fatalities fell to 27 in 2012, down from averages of 60 in the 1977-to-1986 period and 44 in the 1990s.

The category of overexertion, stress and medical issues remained the most common source of death, followed by a group of causes that includes motor-vehicle crashes. Fahy said firefighters are increasingly encouraged to wear seatbelts when responding to blazes, and some have been taking pledges to buckle up.

‘Safety Culture’

“There’s been a good move toward a safety culture for firefighters,” she said in an interview.

Firefighters who died on duty in 2012 ranged in age from 17 to 79, with a median age of 49, according to the NFPA.

The deadliest single incident for firefighters was the crash of a North Carolina Air National Guard plane in South Dakota, which killed four while combating a wildfire. An Arizona wildfire this year claimed the lives of 19 members of an elite firefighting unit in the worst loss of U.S. emergency workers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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