Putting Wildland Firefighter Fatalities Into Perspective
When compared with structural firefighters, career wildland firefighters die at a higher rate, and the rate is statistically significant. Career wildland firefighters make up only 5% of the total number of career firefighters in the United States. Ninety-five percent of career firefighting forces are structure firefighters. Based upon annual reports from the U.S. Fire Administration from 1994 through 2013, wildland firefighters make up approximately 27% of the total number of fatalities. There were a total of 859 fatalities, with 237 of these deaths being career wildland firefighters. This represents wildland firefighters dying at a rate of 6 times higher than structure firefighters. (Volunteer and seasonal firefighters were not included in these statistics.)
While firefighter safety is considered to be the highest priority for structure and wildland fire, by its very nature structure fire appears to be more dangerous. Structure firefighters have jobs that include entering burning buildings – residential and commercial, rescuing and providing medical treatment to individuals who have been trapped and injured, and responding to hazardous materials fires. With some notable exceptions, wildland firefighters do not share these types of dangers and responsibilities. Wildland firefighters are trained to prevent the undesirable spread of wildland fires from the wildland into areas where fire can endanger lives, property and other identified values at risk.
While differences in types and duration of exposure experienced by wildland and structural firefighters can be endlessly debated, the questions that need to be answered are:
- Why are Wildland Firefighters dying at a significantly higher rate than Structure Firefighters?
- What are Structure Firefighters doing to help control the risk that can kill them?
- Can similar safety measures be applied within Wildland Firefighting?
And most importantly – What are Wildland Firefighters protecting that is worth dying for?