Public safety workers such as police officers and firefighters face workplace dangers that often result in serious injury and death. Each year in the United States, thousands of public safety workers lose their lives in the line of duty.
Dangers for Public Safety Workers
Police officers and firefighters are commonly the first responders on the scene of a vehicle accident, burning building, flood, earthquake, or act of terrorism, so they face unique job hazards. They are more likely than other workers to die violently from shootings, vehicle accidents, and fire-related incidents. The fatality risk for police officers and firefighters is three times higher than for all other workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most police fatalities occur during the pursuit of criminals, while most firefighter fatalities occur during fire rescue operations.
Since police officers and firefighters are found in every community, and they are on duty 7 days a week and 24 hours a day to protect public safety, they are exposed to constant dangers in the line of duty. While workplace duties differ between the two occupations, both groups experience high injury rates linked to highway crashes when responding to emergency situations. Injury and fatality rates vary between states and cities, as well as by types of incidents, but statistics show definite links between high crime areas and serious injuries and fatalities to public safety workers.
According to research on police injuries and fatalities, there have been over 80 police officers killed in the line of duty since January 2016, as well as approximately 30 police K-9s who perished while helping their assigned officers. Since 2006, over 1,800 police officers and 160 K-9s lost their lives while responding to public safety calls. According to FBI data, many felonious officer deaths resulted from gunfire which is the largest risk of fatality for police officers, especially in states such as Alaska, Florida, and Texas where the rates of gun ownership are very high.
The most common causes of death for police offers are ranked by percentages in areas throughout the country. They include the following fatality rates:
- Gunfire – 31.8 percent
- Vehicle Crashes – 19.8 percent
- Heart Attacks – 8.1 percent
- Vehicle Assaults – 6.8 percent
- Illness Related to 9-1-1 Response Calls – 5.8 percent
- Moving Vehicles Hitting Officers – 5.4 percent
Serious injuries and fatalities from gunfire, car crashes and assaults are commonly seen by a workers compensation attorney in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
The fatality risks for police officers killed in the line of duty are also linked to the rank of the officer. Police officers who are out on the streets every day are the most likely to die from gunfire, violence and vehicle crashes. Deputy sheriffs are the second most likely to be killed on the job, and police dogs are third. K-9s play a major role in police departments. They are exposed to unique dangers when helping officers detect narcotics and explosives and apprehending violent criminals and suspects who flee the scene of a crime on foot.
Every year, approximately two million fires are reported in the United States. Fire departments around the country typically respond to a fire every 18 seconds. Firefighters perform various jobs in the line of duty to protect lives and minimize property damages, and every responder call includes a unique set of circumstances and risks for injuries and fatalities.
While fighting to put out blazing structure fires, firefighters have to perform other tedious tasks including carrying heavy equipment, positioning and climbing fire ladders, connecting fire hoses to nearby water hydrants and operating pumps. In addition to these highly skilled duties, they must also rescue victims, administer medical aid, and salvage the contents of buildings. Although they wear heavy, fire-protective clothing, firefighters are exposed to many of the same dangers as their victims including severe burns, asphyxiation from noxious gasses, and being struck by heavy falling objects and structures.
In addition to fighting fires in buildings and homes, firefighters often respond to 9-1-1 calls and area forest fires. Firefighters commonly respond to emergency calls to administer medical aid to victims of household and vehicle injuries. When called to help extinguish forest fires, firefighters face high risks of burns and smoke inhalation. These firefighters pilot aircraft to locate forest fires and make water drops. They are also required to use dangerous equipment like axes and chainsaws to create special fire trails and fire blocks.
According to accident statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a workers compensation attorney, the two leading causes of firefighter injuries and fatalities are fires and explosions which account for 40 percent, and vehicle crashes which account for 20 percent. That is followed by occupational injuries caused by smoke inhalation, exposure to hazardous chemicals, and falling objects.