Pond Lehocky’s Occupational Safety Series: 10 things all injured firefighters need to know

Alexis Handrich Firefighters 1

by Alexis Handrich, Esquire


There are about 316,000 career firefighters in the U.S.1, and they put their lives on the line every day in the service of others. Besides extinguishing fires and rescuing trapped and injured people from burning buildings, many firefighters are responsible for providing critical medical attention. In fact, two out of three calls to fire stations are for medical emergencies.2


Here are ten things all firefighters should know if they experience an injury on the job:


1. Firefighters have one of the highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.3


According to the latest data, about 68,000 U.S. firefighters were injured in 2015.4 In 2016 alone, there were 24 career firefighter on-duty fatalities.5


2. Strains, sprains, and muscle pain are the most common injuries


While firefighters’ protective gear helps keep them from being burned, the emergency nature of their work and the sudden heavy lifting that’s often involved means that muscle and joint injuries are common.6  Strains, sprains, and similar problems make up more than half of the injuries suffered by firefighters both at the scene of a fire and elsewhere on the job.4


3. Dangers include collapsing structures and overexposure to flames and smoke


Firefighters can encounter dangerous environments that have unstable floors or walls, flames, and smoke. The structures of a burning building sometimes collapse, causing physical injury to the firefighters, while the flames and smoke can burn and asphyxiate. Each firefighter must wear protective gear to lower the risk of injury, and oftentimes it is effective. However, the protective gear itself can be very heavy and hot, and heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and dehydration are possible.7 


4. Vehicle accidents are common and on the rise


Firefighters are at risk when riding in emergency vehicles. In 2015 there were an estimated 16,600 collisions involving fire department vehicles responding to or returning from calls representing the highest number of collisions since the National Fire Protection Association began tracking the information in 1990.4 Sprains, strains, broken bones, herniated discs, and concussions, among other injuries, can occur as a result of the automotive accident.

Firefighters may be eligible for compensation, in addition to workers’ compensation benefits, from the third party involved in the crash. An experienced attorney will be able to determine this possibility.


5. Psychological injuries can result from traumatic events


A firefighter’s job is to respond to emergency situations, which means firefighters constantly witness pain, suffering, and trauma. Psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety can result.8 Workers’ compensation covers these non-physical injuries if they developed or worsened as a direct result of the job.


6. Firefighters can be exposed to infectious diseases


Because firefighters often provide emergency medical services, there is a risk of infectious disease exposure. In 2015, there were 8,350 documented exposures to diseases such as hepatitis, meningitis, and HIV.4


7. Firefighters can be exposed to hazardous materials


Some firefighters work in hazardous materials units and help clean up oil spills and chemical accidents. As a result, they may be exposed to dangerous substances including asbestos, chemicals, fumes, and radioactive materials.4


8. Pre-existing conditions aggravated by job duties may be compensable


Being a firefighter is a very physical job. A workers’ compensation claim may be possible if a pre-existing condition such as back, muscle, or joint pain is worsened due to repetitive job duties. Some employers may try to fight pre-existing claims, so contacting a workers’ compensation lawyer is critical.


9. Always report work injuries immediately


It is essential to notify supervisors of all injuries, regardless of severity. Even small injuries could worsen over time and eventually jeopardize a firefighter’s career if not treated promptly.


10. Seasonal wildland firefighters may be entitled to benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act


Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, this law provides compensation for the disability or death of civilian employees of the U.S. resulting from performance of their duty. Seasonal wildland firefighters are included in this legislation.9


If you are a firefighter who has been hurt at work, please use the form below for a free consultation.




  1. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes332011.htm#nat
  2. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm#tab-2
  3. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/firefighters.htm#tab-3
  4. http://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/fire-statistics-and-reports/fire-statistics/the-fire-service/fatalities-and-injuries/firefighter-injuries-in-the-united-states
  5. http://www.firerescuemagazine.com/articles/2017/01/on-duty-deaths-and-advancing-hoselines-in-2016.html
  6. http://www.fireengineering.com/articles/2013/11/muscular-injuries-most-common-for-firefighters.html
  7. https://www.firerescue1.com/fire-products/fire-rehab/articles/1917068-3-heat-related-threats-to-firefighters-and-how-to-fix-them/
  8. http://www.firefighternation.com/articles/2013/08/dealing-with-ptsd-in-the-fire-service.html
  9. https://www.firehero.org/resources/family-resources/benefits/federal-benefits/benefits-survivors-federal-civilian-employees-die-line-duty/overview-federal-employees-compensation-act/

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