Researchers examined data from the National Firefighter Near Miss Reporting System and identified four workplace hazards that firefighters across the country regularly face. These hazards include assaults, motor vehicle accidents, personal protective equipment, and the lack of policies and procedures.
The 2014 study revealed that assaults were the No. 1 workplace hazard for firefighters. When firefighters arrive at a scene, they are focused on helping people in need. However, there have been documented reports of patients who did not want help or who used fire as a way to lure firefighters to the scene. The following are accounts of violence committed against firefighters from across the country:
- In April 2018, two firefighters were injured when they responded to an RV fire. A homeowner attacked them after they put out the fire, hitting them in the head and face.
- In February 2019, a patient turned violent when firefighter medics arrived. Three firefighters were injured before the patient was restrained.
- In October 2018, a man set a neighboring home on fire and then waited for firefighters to arrive. When they showed up, the man began shooting at them. No firefighters were injured in the attack.
- In December 2016, two firefighters were attacked with a knife by a patient they were trying to treat for stomach pain.
Sometimes, bystanders or a patient’s family may be the ones who become aggressive. In 2016, firefighters were forced to retreat when a relative of the patient threatened to kill them and another relative threw bricks at them. Both relatives were arrested.
Motor Vehicle Accidents
A motor vehicle accident can occur while firefighters are responding to a call for help or when they are at the scene itself. Bad weather, motorists who fail to yield to fire trucks and ambulances, or mechanical failures have been cited as factors in cases filed by a workers comp lawyer. For example, Nevada receives the least rain of all U.S. states within any given year. When it is hot, the oils in the road asphalt rise to the top. If it rains, the water mixes with these oils, turning the roads into a slick surface until the oil is washed away. This creates a hazardous situation for firetrucks and other fire vehicles heading to an emergency call since their vehicle or another vehicle could lose control.
Motorists who drive under the influence of controlled substances, engage in distracted driving behaviors, or operate their vehicle in an aggressive manner also pose a threat to firefighters. Four firefighters were injured in March 2019 when their fire engine was struck head-on by a car after it crossed a center line. The driver of the car was charged with Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated. The following month, a motorist turned left in front of a fire engine with its lights and sirens on. The crash left three firefighters injured and three other people dead.
Personal Protective Equipment
In Northern Nevada, two volunteer firefighters suffered severe burns while trying to help the victims of a helicopter crash in October 2018. The helicopter crash resulted in a wildfire that burned over the fire engine the firefighters were in. An investigation revealed a lack of standards that required the firefighters to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This lack of standards was a contributing factor in the firefighters’ injuries.
PPE is intended to protect firefighters from unnecessary injury. A firefighter’s standard PPE consists of a helmet, boots, gloves, hearing protection, and turnout gear (jacket and pants). However, there are several instances where PPE has failed or injury could have been prevented if the right PPE was provided. Firefighters have said they would like to see additional reflective material added to PPE. This would make them more visible to motorists, especially at night. Adding PPE such as bulletproof vests, traffic vests, latex gloves, protective eye coverings, masks, and gowns, can protect firefighters and emergency medical technicians from infectious diseases.
Traffic Policies, Procedures, and Practices
Firefighters say they would like to see new policies put into place that give them more control over the scene of an accident or fire. One of these policies is the ability to shut down lanes of traffic, which would move traveling vehicles to a safer distance from the scene. This would eliminate issues with drivers who fail to move into another available lane or slow down as they pass.
Another policy or practice firefighters would like to see used more is staging. For example, when a fire engine arrives at a scene where there is an active shooter, there would be a designated location where firefighters can wait until the scene is safe. Using staging would protect firefighters from harm in situations involving high volumes of vehicle traffic, active shooters, aggressive family members, mobs, and live power lines.