Firefighting Still Dangerous, But For Different Reasons

Aug 14, 2012

The U.S. Forest Service has identified a firefighter killed in Idaho on Sunday as 20-year-old Anne Veseth of Moscow, Idaho. She was struck by a falling tree at the Steep Corner Fire southeast of Coeur d’Alene.  Firefighting deaths fluctuate from year to year, but the biggest source of that danger has shifted.

Federal records going back to 1910 detail the cause of death for more than 1,000 firefighters killed in the line of duty. And for decades, the leading cause was what’s known as “burnover” –- firefighters being caught in the advancing flames.

But in the mid-'90s, that changed with a series of safety reforms. At the same time, firefighting became more mechanized.

“Right now, in the last 20 years, aviation accidents have been the leading cause of death on wildfires. Second to that is vehicle accidents,” says Dick Mangan, a former fire manager who tracks firefighting deaths.

Third on the list is heart attack. And coming in at fourth is burnover. In other words, the fire itself is no longer the leading cause of death for firefighters.

“Just based on numbers, the biggest threat is getting to the fire and getting home safely,” Mangan says.

Falling trees and snags, like the one that killed Anne Veseth, are in fact relatively rare causes of fatalities.

Anne Veseth is the 12th person killed this year fighting one of the nation’s wildfires.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network