Fighting Wildfires In The West Is A Dangerous Occupation

Aug 20, 2015

Three firefighters died after their vehicle crashed and was likely caught by flames as they battled a blaze in Washington State yesterday. Four other firefighters were injured.

The National Interagency Fire Center (NFIC) says 13 people have died battling the fires this year.

Driving is one of the leading causes of death for wildland firefighters. That can include driving to or from a fire, as well as on the fire line.

Randy Eardley of NFIC says every death is mourned.

“By and large, across the country, regardless of agency or role, whenever we have fatalities, it tends to be felt throughout the fire community,” says Eardley.

Heart attacks are another big killer —some of which happen on the fire line, others during training.

Between 2002 and 2014, 18 firefighters, on average, died each year. Officials list six main causes of death, including aviation, burn over, hazard trees and a category called other.

Daily briefings in fire camps include safety reminders. One spokesman says safety is the primary point of discussion throughout the day for those assigned to fires.

“It is a hazardous line of work. We talk safety all the time and we do everything we can to mitigate the inherent risks," Eardley says.

Eardley says everyone, from firefighter to supervisor, is empowered to speak up if they feel something is unsafe. He says the goal is to have everyone come home from every fire safely.

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