NFPA's Ken Willette discusses historically low firefighter death rates with The Christian Science Monitor

Blog Post created by laurenbackstrom Employee on Jun 18, 2013

Ken Willette
NFPA's own Ken Willette, Division Manager of Public Fire Protection, recently sat down with Chelsea B. Sheasley of The Christian Science Monitor to discuss the current historically low firefighter death numbers. Here is some of the article that resulted; 

When Ken Willette started firefighting 35 years ago, his uniform left much to be desired. Little more than a raincoat with rubber boots and plastic gloves, the outfit was more likely to melt than sustain his job responsibilities.

Now, with improvements to firefighting equipment, as well as better safety standards, and a decrease in overall fires, the number of firefighter deaths has dropped by more than a third in the past three decades and has fallen to historic lows the past two years.

The Firefighter Fatality Report, just published by NFPA, tells us that a total of 64 on-duty firefighters died in the US in 2012, marking the second consecutive year that the total has been below 65 deaths, the lowest level since statistics began to be tracked in 1977. The number of fatalities that occurred during actual firefighting also dropped to a record low.

It’s a significant improvement from the late 1970s, when the average number of on-duty firefighter deaths reached 151. The numbers have been trending downward since then, according to that new NFPA report. By the 1990s, the average number of on-duty deaths fell to 97 and the first decade of the 21st century saw the figure drop to 88. In the past five years the number fell further to 77 average annual fatalities.

Mr. Willette, who ran two fire departments in Massachusetts after his early firefighter days, says that even though fewer firefighters are dying at fires, fires are reaching "flashover" points, where all combustible materials ignite at the same time, sooner.

“It’s a point of no survival for the firefighter or the occupant. We want to get firefighters there within 10 minutes. We’re now finding flashover occurring at the six minute mark or sooner,” says Willette. He advocates installing sprinklers in residential homes, where the majority of firefighter deaths occur, but says many homeowners and builders are resistant due to cost.

“There are tools to make the firefighters job safer and people safer, we have to wait for the public to accept that.”

Read the full article to find out more about what has been happening in the industry to reduce the numbers, including the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's “Everyone Goes Home” program. Also detailed are some of the reasons behind the deaths that still are occuring, including health and safety issues that continue to be a focus point in reducing these numbers even further. 

Speaking of health and safety, today is the final day for fire service members to take the NFPA, NVFC and IAFC quiz on that very subject, earning them an entry in our sweepstakes. 125 randomly selected winners will be announced tomorrow.