Firefighters face unique hazards that place them at high risk of personal injury and death. Hazardous conditions, harmful substances, infectious diseases, slip and fall accidents, overexertion, and motor vehicle collisions seriously injured more than 62,000 firefighters in 2016. These and other unsafe conditions contributed to the on-duty deaths of about 60 firefighters last year alone.
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Firefighters are engaged in a dangerous profession and enhanced research has shown that long-term exposure to job-related circumstances causes chronic illnesses, like cancer and heart disease, and behavioral complications that can lead to suicide. Such injuries and deaths are coupled with the incident-specific fatalities that firefighters encounter on the job.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), firefighters face a cancer diagnosis threat of more than 9 percent in comparison to the general U.S. public. The rate of cancer-related deaths among firefighters has also increased to 14 percent according to a 2017 NIOSH study.
In 2017, a total of 60 firefighters died on the job. In the past seven years, 2017 marked the sixth time that on-duty firefighter deaths dropped below 70. Sudden cardiac arrest accounted for almost half (29) of the fatalities.
A study by the National Firefighters Protection Agency revealed that in 2016, a total of 62,085 on-the-job firefighter injuries were reported. 24,325 of these occurred at the fire site. Such fire ground injuries per 1,000 have been constant for the past 20 years. An estimated 15,425 collisions involving fire department emergency vehicles were reported where firefighters were engaged in incident response or returning from such responses.
36,475 firefighters were exposed to hazardous conditions such as asbestos, fumes, chemicals, and radioactive materials according to the 2016 NFPA study. The exposure rate is 1 out of every 30 incidents tackled by the fire department staff. Exposure to infectious diseases injured 9,275 firefighters translating to 1 out of every 2,500 emergency responses requiring medical attention from the fire department staff.
In some instances the injuries are instant and some others take months or even years to develop. When firefighters suffer injuries on the job, they may be able to recover workers’ compensation benefits for lost wages, medical expenses and more.