Published on November 1, 2019.

Selected 2018 US Firefighter Injury Incidents



A firefighter was injured in a partial structural collapse while fighting a residential fire.

On a frigid night, with the ground covered in deep snow, the local fire department received 911 calls at approximately 3 a.m. reporting a fire in an occupied home. Arriving crews encountered a well-advanced, wind-driven fire that was already spreading to adjacent structures. The fire was consuming three closely spaced multiple-family dwellings, each built of wooden balloon-frame construction and as close as 10 feet (3 meters) apart. Firefighters were challenged by the bitter cold, deep snow banks, and an advanced fire with an occupant reported missing and still inside the burning building.

The first-in company officer immediately requested additional resources to control the escalating fire. Seven firefighters—an engine company with three firefighters and a heavy rescue with four firefighters—were assigned to enter an exposure building adjacent to the building where the fire originated, and to extinguish fire in the attic. On their way to the attic, firefighters performed extinguishment and overhaul on the second floor. Two firefighters from the heavy rescue crew were inside the second-floor kitchen as a member of the engine company operated a handline with his lieutenant several feet away on a landing. The other firefighters from both companies were in the stairway making their way up to the second floor, advancing the hose line up the stairs.

Fire conditions in the attic were getting worse and the incident commander ordered an immediate building evacuation. Twenty seconds after the evacuation order, the chimney and roof structure collapsed and crashed down into the second floor, trapping one of the heavy rescue firefighters who had been in the kitchen.

The trapped firefighter, a 51-year-old who was a 30-year fire service veteran, was pinned beneath a roof joist and other roofing materials. He immediately tried to call a mayday, but the transmit button on his portable radio had been smashed and would not operate. He called for his heavy rescue partner, who had stepped out of the room moments before the collapse. The partner heard the pleas for help and immediately called a mayday.

The trapped firefighter and his partner began assessing the situation. The victim was not only trapped, with the end of the smoldering roof joist pinning the back of his left knee and calf, but there was fire above and below where he was pinned. The members of the engine company immediately directed their hose line onto the victim and began extinguishing the fire surrounding him.

The incident commander immediately acknowledged the mayday and activated the rapid intervention team (RIT), which consisted of an engine company staffed with an officer and three firefighters and a ladder company staffed with an officer and two firefighters. The on-scene safety chief immediately went to the rear stair and directed rescue operations from the second-floor landing. All fireground radio communications were assigned to a separate radio frequency and rescue operations remained on the original fireground radio channel.

The firefighters who were in the collapse area gained immediate access to the victim and assessed the situation. They began developing a rescue plan to remove him from the rubble. He was pinned but in a sitting position, conscious and alert, and assisted in his own rescue as much as possible. With the fire extinguished around him, firefighters worked to free him using tools they had readily available or their hands. In a coordinated effort, crews outside the building shuttled equipment to the work area. After several minutes, the RIT team had joined the other members in the rescue attempt. Approximately 16 minutes after the mayday was declared, the RIT team performed a full facepiece swap with the victim. Crews used battery-operated spreaders to create a gap large enough to pull his leg out from under the roof debris. The victim walked out of the building under his own power to a waiting advanced life support ambulance. The mayday was cleared and all firefighters were accounted for 33 minutes after the mayday was called.

The victim was wearing a complete protective ensemble. He was treated and released from the hospital the following morning, only to return several days later with complications and infection of the burn area. He followed up with the burn clinic and ultimately had a skin graft performed. He returned to full firefighting activities five months after the injury but still attended physical therapy for nearly a year.

The mayday called by the victim’s partner proved to be a critical communication that provided everyone on scene with an accurate description of what happened, who was trapped, where he was located, and what he needed. During rescue, the victim was provided with air and water, two essential elements of RIT team operations.

The fire department indicated during its near-miss review that several experienced firefighters were exhibiting signs of critical incident stress during the interviews. The panel immediately ceased the interviews and contacted the employee assistance program to provide services for the members.


A firefighter who was not wearing all of his protective clothing suffered burns while fighting a residential fire.

The fire department responded to a late afternoon fire in a single-family, wood-frame, ranch-style home constructed in the early 1970s. Arriving crews found fire venting out several bedroom windows.

The first unit on the scene was the chief, who immediately established command. The occupants approached the chief and told him that everyone was out of the house. The first engine company arrived on scene and initiated an aggressive interior attack by advancing a hose line through the attached garage into the living room. Once the crew was near the kitchen, they charged their hose line and began advancing down the hallway.

With a 27-year-old firefighter leading the hose line down the dark hallway, the engine company could see that the bedroom had already flashed over and fire was beginning to roll over their heads. They began applying water to the flames. The officer, who was right behind the firefighter leading the hose, could hear windows breaking as horizontal ventilation was performed by firefighters outside. Investigators later determined that the fire originated in a bedroom and was reported as under investigation. The home did not have working smoke alarms.

During the fire attack, the officer heard the nozzle firefighter say that he thought he was burned. As soon as the second hand line approached, approximately 30 to 60 seconds later, and the main body of fire was knocked down, the two firefighters abandoned their hand-line and exited the building.

The nozzle firefighter suffered second-degree burns to his ears and neck. The chief requested that an ambulance respond and the burned firefighter was transported to the closest emergency room. He was treated at the burn clinic and returned to firefighting activities nearly two months after the incident.

The injured firefighter, who had almost two years’ experience, was not wearing his hood but was wearing the rest of his protective ensemble in accordance with the department’s standard operating procedures. The chief stated that due to the violations of department policy, the officer and firefighter were disciplined and additional training on the use of protective clothing was delivered to the department.


A paramedic and a firefighter were injured trying to avoid a fire department apparatus that had gone out of control on an icy road.

The fire department received several calls during an ice storm regarding a motor vehicle crash, possibly with entrapment. Two units were dispatched: an ambulance staffed with a firefighter and a paramedic, and a tower ladder staffed with the assistant chief and two firefighters.

The medic unit arrived first and began assessing the scene. The crash was on a frozen bridge; the surrounding roadways had not been treated and were extremely slippery. As the tower ladder approached the scene, it began to slide on the ice. The truck started turning to the left and it was apparent to the responders on scene that it was heading directly at them. Three police officers were on scene and began scattering. The 21-year-old paramedic jumped off the bridge, falling approximately 20 feet (6 meters) into an icy stream. The 25-year-old firefighter tried to escape but slipped and fell on the ice, and the tower ladder drove over him as he lay in the road. The front tires passed over him completely, with one of the rear tires driving over his legs. The tower ladder slid approximately 40–100 feet (12–30 meters) before crashing into the bridge. All members were seated in approved riding positions and wearing seatbelts and were not injured.

The paramedic who jumped from the bridge suffered a severe foot injury requiring surgery. He was able to return to duty five to six months after the incident. The firefighter who was run over by the truck suffered only contusions and returned to duty a month later.

The department prioritized the mental health of its members both on scene and within the department. It immediately activated a regional peer support program to deal with critical incident stress. It was available for every member of the department; members who had been on scene attended a minimum of three counseling sessions. The department stated it was adamant about protecting its members’ emotional health, as well as treating their physical injuries.

There was approximately $35,000 worth of damage to the tower ladder, which was repaired.


Two inmate firefighters and a wildland firefighter suffered severe burns during a firing operation while operating at a rapidly-escalating wildland fire.

Eight hours into the fire, it was determined that the weather conditions were favorable for crews to begin firing operations by burning fuels approximately a quarter mile (.4 km) south of the fire. During this operation, the wind shifted direction, causing rapid fire growth due to sustained northeasterly winds of 25 mph (40 kph) and blocking the firefighters’ escape routes.

One of the inmate firefighters attempted to run through the advancing flames into the burned area, forgetting about the presence of a barbed wire fence. He was burned when he became entangled in the fence, but was able to extricate himself, find an opening in the fence, and escape into the burned area.

The second inmate firefighter ran toward the emergency vehicles and attempted to jump over the barbed wire fence. He was able to clear the fence but his hand tool caught on the fence, causing him to fall to the ground. He landed face first on the ground and the fast-moving flames ignited his hair and facial hair. It is unclear how the third firefighter was burned, other than that he was caught in the burn over.

Another crew leader operating nearby saw the burn over occur and tried to call in a request for ambulances, but had difficulty doing so due to heavy radio traffic. He was eventually able to get through. He brought all three injured firefighters together and requested that several advanced life-support units respond to their location. Approximately 45 minutes after the fire event, all three firefighters were transported to the emergency room, where they were treated for burn injuries to their faces and necks.


A bulldozer operator suffered minor injuries in a rollover during firefighting activities.

A team leader and two bulldozers were assigned to build a fire line approximately three miles (4.8 km) from a wildland fire. The proposed line was reviewed by the leader who felt it could be done safely. He used glow sticks to identify rock outcroppings, performed a safety briefing, and communicated objectives with the two bulldozer operators.

Bulldozer 1 was assigned to the lead position with Bulldozer 2 trailing behind widening the fire line. The team leader was approximately 100–150 feet (30–46 meters) in front of Bulldozer 1, acting as a guide. Once they encountered the first rock outcropping, the operator of Bulldozer 1 exited his vehicle and met with the leader to review operations. After navigating the obstacle and resuming operations, they continued building the fire line for several hundred feet.

The leader maintained communications with the operators, informing them of changing conditions. He looked back up the ridge, checking on the operation. He watched Bulldozer 1 tilt approximately 45 degrees, then suddenly rotate 90 degrees as the front of the machine lifted into the air. The bulldozer slid and rolled over, landing upright approximately 300 feet (91 meters) downhill.

The operator of Bulldozer 1 had four years of bulldozer experience, with extensive knowledge of the machinery having used it at multiple wildland fires. He was able to extricate himself but suffered a head laceration and contusions to his face. He was transported to the emergency room by helicopter and advanced life-support ambulance. He was treated and released 16 hours after the incident.


A 19-year-old firefighter with two years on the fire department was injured in a crash while responding to a reported building fire.

The fire department was dispatched to a report of smoke coming from a single-family home, indicating a possible fire. The firefighter responded from his home in his personal vehicle with his emergency lights activated. He lost control of his car on a curve on a two-lane road, approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) from his home. The car then skidded onto the shoulder and the passenger-side rear door struck a telephone pole.

The driver, who was wearing his seatbelt, suffered minor injuries, including whiplash and some bruising. He returned to full firefighting activities three weeks after the crash.

RICHARD CAMPBELL is data collection and research manager at NFPA. JOSEPH L. MOLIS is an NFPA fire data assistant and a battalion chief with the fire department in Providence, Rhode Island.