Muddy Water Supply Data

Muddy Water Supply Data

The smarter we become about doing our job and about knowing well the material given to us hopefully makes us better readers. By being better readers, we are less likely to accept general, vague information especially when it is meant to drive our attention toward our fatalities and how and why they occur.

As I have written before on the subject, it is indispensable that we match NIOSH firefighter fatality investigation reports with the earlier United States Fire Administration on-duty death announcements and yearly reports. By doing so we get past the bar graphs and pie charts and really learn the proper information and any possible inaccuracies.

As you will learn below, a recently released report contrasts with what was initially announced and reveals a whole sub-category in the 2017 fallen firefighter report that is incorrect.

On-Duty Death Follow-up and Contrast

The NIOSH Fire Fighter Fatality Investigation and Prevention program report was released about the on-duty death of a Massachusetts firefighter on 30 March 2017 [1]. The USFA reported the death of the 47-year-old career firefighter who died of a heart attack brought on by stress/overexertion while he was exercising at a gym after going off-duty [2]. The victim had earlier complained of back paint after a “lift assist” call.

The activity type for this death is listed as “Water Supply” and is considered having been done as “Emergency Duty.”

Massachusetts (USFA image)

His death was the twenty-fifth on-duty death of 2017.

NIOSH Findings

The USFA notified NIOSH of the fatality on 3 April 2017. NIOSH contacted the fire department on 7 April and again on 20 February 2018 to begin an investigation. On 20 February NIOSH conducted an on-site investigation.

On 29 March the victim was working a 24-hour shift. He responded to two calls during this shift, both were EMS calls. The first was at 0948 hours and involved lifting an obese patient [3]. After this call it is noted the victim mentioned that he injured his back. He refused inquiries about going to seek medical attention. The second call was at 2048 hours. The NIOSH report notes nothing extraordinary about this call [4]. With his shift completed the victim went to the gym where he regularly worked out. During his second round of exercises he collapsed.

Point of Contrast

The USFA lists the victim’s activity type as “Water Supply.” The NIOSH investigator interviewed the deputy chief, firefighters who worked with the victim, the union president, and reviewed the fire department incident reports for that shift [5]. As the NIOSH report indicates there were only two calls during the shift and neither involved water supply.

“EMS/Patient Care” is the appropriate activity type to be used. His is one of three on-duty deaths listed as “Water Supply” that are inappropriately categorized. The other two are an Illinois firefighter who suffered a heart attack while “assigned to advance a hoseline” [6] and a contract wildland firefighter who died after being struck by a snag [7].

Each is incorrectly counted in the USFA data and in the 2017 USFA report [8]. (Note: the 2017 report lists four firefighters who died while doing “Water Supply” but the data does not list the fourth firefighter.)

Illinois (USFA image)

Oregon (USFA image)

(USFA image)


All fatalities listed under “Water Supply” for 2017 are listed incorrectly, assuming also that the fourth fatality does not exist. An entire sub-category was presented in error. They should be:

Massachusetts: “EMS/Patient Care”
Illinois: “Advancing Hoselines (including Wildland)
Oregon: “Advancing Hoselines (including Wildland)

Marrying the NIOSH report, when available, to the USFA announcement gives us a better picture of our fatality data and helps our education and understanding, especially if we are focusing on what is statistically relevant to our environment.

1. 47-Year-Old Firefighter Suffers Cardiac Arrest at Gym After Shift, NIOSH, 11 February 2019
2. Anthony J. Spano, Firefighter, USFA 30 March 2017
3. 47-Year-Old Firefighter Suffers Cardiac Arrest at Gym After Shift, NIOSH, 11 February 2019
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. Lawrence “"Iron Man"” Matthews, Firefighter, USFA, 10 June 2017
7. Trenton Martin Johnson, Firefighter, USFA, 19 July 2017
8. Firefighter Fatalities in the United States 2017, USFA, September 2018

Clarion UX