This summer City Limits reported on the causes of New York City firefighter fatalities over the past 20 years. A lot of the factors in those local tragedies mirrored threats faced by firefighters everywhere—communication problems, firefighters getting lost, problems with air supply.
The federal government just reported that despite those risks, American firefighters suffered fewer fatalities last year than in the previous 18 years: 81 on-duty firefighters perished in 2011, down from 87 the year before, and the fewest since 1993. To put those numbers in some context, in 1978, 171 U.S. firefighters died on duty. Back in 1945, in New York City alone, 28 firefighters perished.
Last month’s Brooklyn fire in which two firefighters were seriously burned was a close call for the FDNY. The firefighters’ union blamed the injuries on staffing reductions that cut the number of firefighters on each engine company to four, from five; the department denied that was the case.
Through November, the number of structural fires in 2011 was down 4 percent from 2010.
Nonetheless, FDNY has now gone more than three years without a fatality at a fire operation.