Heart attacks killed 33 of the 82 firefighters who died while on duty in the U.S. last year, according to a report from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA). “Firefighter Fatalities in the United States” is compiled annually by the USFA to identify and analyze all on-duty firefighter fatalities to increase understanding of their causes and how they can be prevented. The study is intended to help identify approaches that could reduce the number of deaths in future years.

Research published in the in Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, showed that firefighters who died from cardiac arrest were much more likely than those who died of other causes to show signs of both atherosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease at autopsy.

“Firefighters face many dangers, but the greatest risk is from underlying cardiovascular disease in combination with the physiological strain that the work places on the firefighter,” said study lead author Denise L. Smith, Ph.D., Tisch Distinguished Professor and director of the First Responder Health and Safety Laboratory at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. “Medical screening is necessary to establish that a firefighter is healthy enough to do this strenuous work.”

Forty-two firefighters perished from activities related to an emergency incident. Thirty firefighters died from activities at a fire scene, ten while responding to or returning from emergency incidents and nine while participating in training activities.

The report sheds light not only on fatality causes, but on which categories of firefighters are at highest risk. Forty-four of those who died were volunteer firefighters, 33 were career and five were wildland.

Eighty-seven firefighters died while on-duty in 2017; 33 career firefighters, 48 volunteer firefighters, and 6 part-time or full-time members of wildland or wildland contract fire agencies.

Download the report PDF 2.6 MB