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Billions in cost estimated for firefighter injuries


Firefighters face a high chance of injury or death whether on the scene of a fire, on the way to a fire or even during training--with an estimated 81,000 injuries and 100 deaths in 2002 alone. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently released a study* that estimates the cost in 2002 of addressing firefighter injuries and of efforts to prevent them to be $2.8 billion to $7.8 billion per year.

The study, conducted by the TriData Division of System Planning Corporation, Arlington, Va., for NIST, considered workers’ compensation payments and other insured medical expenses, including long-term care; lost productivity and administrative costs of insurance. It also factored in labor costs of investigating injuries, along with the hours required for data collection, report writing and filing. Other costs related to preventing injuries and reducing their severity included expenditures for insurance coverage, safety training, physical fitness programs and protective gear and equipment.

The range between the $2.8 billion to $7.8 billion reflects different cost estimation models--one with a narrow approach to possible related firefighter injury costs, the others with broader views of economic impacts. Fire departments can use the information to plan their fire prevention and firefighting strategies. NIST plans to use the study as an aid to determining what new research might lead to a reduction in injury costs and to enhanced fire safety.

The study stressed the importance of programs that minimize emergency calls, prevent accidental fires, and reduce the incidents of arson. It also calls for early detection of fires using smoke detectors as well as improved on scene command procedures to locate firefighters and understand threats to them. The study praises firefighter bravery as "legendary and real," but calls for new ways to instill safety awareness in firefighters. It also says that training injuries can be minimized by developing better virtual reality simulations for use in training firefighters.

Other suggested ways to prevent injury and to cut cost include: robots for reconnaissance and firefighting; early (remote) sensing of firefighter injuries/illnesses; computer modeling of deployment scenarios; early detection of building collapse; and emphasis on heightened firefighter health and fitness.

John Blair | EurekAlert!
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