Wildland Firefighter Fatality Surveillance Part 2

Blog Post created by rbcampbell Employee on Mar 13, 2017

In a previous blog, I wrote about a new surveillance system to collect data on wildland firefighter fatalities (the Wildland Firefighter 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 firefighter 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 firefighter 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 firefighter 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 firefighter deaths.


For more on the NIOSH wildland firefighter fatality surveillance initiative, see: https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2017/02/16/wildland-ff-surveillance/