Skip navigation
All Places > Fire Break > Blog > Author: rbcampbell

Fire Break

2 Posts authored by: rbcampbell Employee

In a previous blog, I wrote about a new surveillance system to collect data on wildland firefighter fatalities (the Wildland Fire Fighter On-Duty Death Surveillance System) under the aegis of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  As mentioned, NFPA’s Fire Incident Data Organization (FIDO) is one of three separate sources of information on wildland fire fighter deaths that will be utilized in this effort.  I want to follow up in this blog with a brief description of some of the new system’s mechanics, as well as early findings. 


A starting point is to identify the criteria that NIOSH has established for determining just what counts as a wildland fire fighter death, a necessity that emerged when NIOSH researchers found discrepancies between the numbers of fatalities reported by the three information sources owing to differences in how the deaths were defined. 


Consequently, NIOSH drew up a multi-part case definition to ensure consistency of its fatality data.  Here, fatalities are defined as any fatal injury or illness sustained among wildland fire fighters while on-duty at a wildland fire-related event or while performing wildland fire duties in the U.S.; wildland fire is defined as a non-structure fire occurring in vegetation or natural fuel, including prescribed fire and wildfire, and wildland fire fighter is distinguished as a person with a principal function of fire suppression, whether in a career or volunteer capacity.  NIOSH also further defines on-duty as:


--a wildland fire or non-fire activity

--the act of responding to or returning from a wildland fire; performing other officially assigned wildland fire or wildland fire fighter duties

--being on call, under orders, or on standby duty, other than at one’s own home or place of business, and

--events covered under the Hometown Heroes Survivors’ Benefits Act of 2003.


As deaths and incident details are received from the three data sources, they’re entered into the NIOSH surveillance system, sometimes after follow-up to reconcile conflicting information. 


Drawing on the three data sources, the NIOSH surveillance system has identified 247 wildland fire fighter deaths that occurred between 2001 and 2012. 


Already, the strength of combining data sources is suggested by what NIOSH found when comparing its injury count to those of the individual data sources.  NIOSH reports that 181 of the 247 deaths (73%) were captured by all three data sources, while 31 of the deaths (13%) were commonly identified two data sources, and 35 deaths (14%) were identified in one source only. 


Moving forward, the payoff of the surveillance system will be determined by how effectively it can be used by partners who can leverage the data to target high risk practices or populations, identify training needs, promote protective factors, evaluate prevention outcomes, inform policy, or contribute in other ways to the ultimate goal of reducing wildland fire fighter deaths.


For more on the NIOSH wildland firefighter fatality surveillance initiative, see:

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a long-standing research program in firefighter safety and health.  Because the demands and hazards of wildland firefighting differ in some important ways from structural firefighting (such as the need to carry heavy equipment over difficult terrain and long work shifts that may last multiple continuous days), NIOSH recently introduced the NIOSH Wildland Fire Fighter On-Duty Death Surveillance System.  Of particular note to NFPA audiences is that our own Fire Incident Data Organization (FIDO) is one of three data sources that NIOSH is utilizing in creating this data collection system.

Just to be clear, surveillance in this context refers to the public health practice of systematically collecting and analyzing injury data in order to help identify opportunities for prevention.  Think of fatal injury surveillance data as representing the “who, what, when, where, how and why” elements of injury events.  By studying trends and identifying the circumstances of these deaths, it will be possible to better identify risk factors and to support prevention measures.


The reason that NIOSH is using three reporting systems is that different systems have different methods of identifying and defining cases for inclusion. Different criteria may be used in determining what constitutes a work-related fatality, for instance, such as whether to include a firefighter who suffers a fatal heart attack following an arduous work shift, but who was no longer on duty.  Consequently, even though each of the reporting systems follows the same outcome of interest – wildland firefighter deaths -- they may produce slightly different numbers.  By drawing from each of the three data sources, NIOSH hopes to create as complete a count of wildland firefighter deaths as possible, and also to assemble more detailed information on injury events than is available from a single data source.


NFPA’s internal FIDO database itself is an information-rich database that draws upon multiple data sources, including fire departments and other investigation reports.  Launched by NFPA in 1971, FIDO data also includes records for significant fire incidents that don’t involve firefighter fatalities.  In addition to FIDO, the other two data sources that NIOSH will be using in its surveillance effort are the National Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Safety Gram and the firefighter fatality data system sponsored by the United States Fire Administration (USFA). As the new system evolves, it should facilitate research that homes in on some of the special hazards of wildland firefighting and identifies opportunities for intervention.


I’ll have more on the new surveillance system and some of its early findings in a follow-up blog.

Filter Blog

By date: By tag: