Surveillance System Created to Track Wildland Firefighter Fatalities

Wildland firefighters are required to pass an “arduous duty” physical fitness test annually to help ensure that they are prepared for the physical nature of the job. Unlike structural firefighting, wildland firefighting often requires long work shifts that may last up to 14 continuous days, and often takes place in environments that are challenging with regard to temperature and terrain.

To develop NIOSH’s Wildland Fire Fighter On-Duty Death Surveillance System, researchers identified three data sources that track on-duty wildland firefighter fatalities and provide the types of data needed for this occupational health surveillance effort:

  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Fire Incident Data Organization,
  • The National Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (NWCG) Safety Gram, and
  • The United States Fire Administration (USFA) firefighter fatality data system.

For NIOSH’s surveillance system, the following case definition was supplied, which ultimately recommended as a common case definition for on-duty wildland firefighter fatalities:

  • Any fatal injury or illness (e.g. sudden cardiac or cerebrovascular event) sustained among wildland firefighters while on-duty at a wildland fire-related event or while performing wildland fire duties in the U.S.
  • “Wildland fire” refers to a non-structure fire occurring in vegetation or natural fuels and includes prescribed fire and wildfire.
  • ‘Wildland firefighter’ refers to a person whose principal function is fire suppression (includes paid/career and volunteer workers).

There is an overall push in occupational health (and public health practice in general) to standardize the way that information is collected and reported to reduce the resources needed to perform occupational health surveillance.

In this case, use of a common case definition among the three data sources would reduce the amount of time spent comparing the data and seeking additional information to prevent misclassification.