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Latest Firefighter Fatalities Spotlight Worrying Trend

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LONDON, UK - MONTH 00: XXXXX. Month 00, 201X in London.Two firefighters died suddenly while on duty this week.

Clifford Cox, 53, collapsed on Saturday at his fire station in Staines, Surrey, from which hundreds of people have been evacuated by the fire service after the recent floods.

Colleagues tried in vain to resuscitate Mr Cox, who had served in Surrey Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) for 25 years. Detectives from North Surrey CID were called to Staines Fire Station following his sudden death, but the cause is, as yet, unclear.

Mr Cox had been involved with the flood rescue efforts in the area, although his death is not thought to be directly linked to the floods.

In Northern Ireland, Nial Hamilton, 44, collapsed after helping colleagues tackle a blazing car in Lurgan, County Armagh on 10 February. He was pronounced dead at hospital after colleagues attempted to give him first aid at the scene.

Mr Hamilton, who had served as a firefighter for more than 20 years, had gone to check and store breathing apparatus used in the operation but was later found lying next to his fire engine.

“Organisational systemic failings”

The Fire Brigades Union’s (FBU) fatal accident investigation report summary has attributed the deaths of four firefighters in Warwickshire in 2007 to a “catalogue of organisational systemic failings” by Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service (FRS).

The report investigated the deaths of Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stephens and Darren Yates-Badley, who attended a fire in a vegetable packing plant in November 2007 in Atherstone-on-Stour along with around 100 other firefighters.

The report highlighted severe problems with:

  • Fire-risk assessment and planning
  • A deficiency in the quality of information available to the incident commander
  • The use of breathing apparatus
  • And inadequate training, particularly for retained or part-time firefighters

In January 2012 Warwickshire County Council pleaded guilty at Wolverhampton Crown Court to failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees and was fined £30,000.

FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said 2007 was the worst year since 1985 for firefighter deaths – despite year-on-year falls in fires across the decade – with eight dying on duty. Since then, firefighters have died at operational incidents in Central Scotland in 2008, Lothian and Borders in 2009, Hampshire in 2010 and Greater Manchester in 2013.

The trend in firefighter deaths had been downwards until 2002, but there has been an alarming upturn in recent years. “This suggests that lessons are still not being learned by fire and rescue services and government,” Matt Wrack said.

US firefighter deaths

The death toll among their US counterparts has been high recently too, with 81 US firefighters dying on duty in 2012 and 101 in 2013.  Sixteen have died so far this year.

Of the 81 who died in 2012, 45 died in activities related to emergencies, 22 at the scene of a fire, 17 while responding to or returning from emergency incidents, 18 as a result of vehicle crashes and eight while training. Heart attacks were the most frequent cause of death, accounting for 39 cases.

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    Cherry Park
    Cherry Park
    Cherry Park is an experienced freelance journalist and reporter who specializes in features, news, and news analysis, in print and online. She has written extensively in the areas of health and safety, fire safety, employment, HR, recruitment, rewards, pay and benefits, market research, environment, and metallurgy, and she also conducts research.
    4 comments
    FFOld guy
    FFOld guy

    Many years ago (call it pre 1997), the Fire Service was manned (sorry ladies), with lots of young, strong men in the early 20s to mid 30s or very early 40s.

    They were put through strenuous physical  training, fire/smoke tunnels in BA, clambering up towers in full kit (inc BA), and as a result some failed the physicals. Guess what, they were rejected for front line, or re allocated. No Harm done.

    Today, thanks to political interference, lots of changes have resulted in some downsizing of crews, and money light brigades may be looking for economy meaures (cuts to you and me).

    Rightly or wrongly, older guys do not now see progression any time soon, so stay "in station" hanging on to a properjob in these times.

    Could it be that cuts have neglected to ensure the physical fitness exacting standards have also been modified or cut?

    That would explain these unfortunate deaths I reckon.

    Still politicians and `Crats or not in danger, so that`s OK then!

    SunitaT
    SunitaT

    All these four problems mentioned in the report are very serious and should be taken into account. Incident commander is supposed to be the in-charge of the scene and calling the shots. If he/she is not provided with reliable information, one can easily imagine who is at risk at that site. I wonder if there is any rule for engaging part-time firefighters in any specific emergency levels.

    SunitaT
    SunitaT

    Heart attack claiming 39 out of 81 deaths of firefighters in the US is something to ponder over. Although it is not clear what could be the possible cause of these heart attacks, one would assume that emergency scenes have something to do with them. It calls for in-depth research into physical and psychological causes of sudden heart attacks if any such research has not already been carried out.

    nbaugh
    nbaugh

    The link to the web-site detailing fire fighter deaths in American is, unfortunately, interesting. A quick glance at the ages of the fire fighters that have died so far this year does seem to suggest that the risk of death whilst responding or returning from incidents rises significantly above the age of 55. I firmly believe that the UK's fire services' standard operating procedures and health monitoring provide our fire-fighters with a high level of preventative protection. However, the move to increase the numbers of retained firefighters  and perhaps, also volunteers in conjunction with the proposed increase in the retirement age may impact on this record. 

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