Firefighter illnesses and injuries at a major fire disaster

Prehosp Emerg Care. 2002 Jan-Mar;6(1):22-6. doi: 10.1080/10903120290938724.


Introduction: In the summer of 1998, a series of wildfires swept across Florida. Firefighters and support personnel were imported and based in a central camp in Flagler County, Florida. Local residents were evacuated. Disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs) were deployed to provide medical support. Similar large-scale fire disasters occur frequently, but the illnesses and injuries seen have not been described.

Objectives: To report the descriptive epidemiology of illnesses and injuries seen in firefighters and support personnel engaged in control and suppression of a series of wildfires.

Methods: Review of DMAT treatment records to determine the nature of illnesses and injuries seen during a 19-day deployment.

Results: Approximately 1,600 firefighters and support personnel were present in the camp. There were 3,404 patients seen with 3,841 complaints. An average of 179 patients was seen per day (range 47-414). A prominent bimodal pattern of presentations was noted during the course of each day. Reasons for seeking medical care included: preventive/hygiene and environmental, 33%; foot-related, 15%; rashes, 14%; ear, nose, and throat (ENT)/allergies, 9%; headache, 4%; eye irritation, 4%; gastrointestinal/abdominal complaints, 3%; cuts and penetrating injuries, 3%; strains/sprains, 2%; bites/stings, 2%; others, 1%. Eight patients (0.2%) were transferred to an emergency department for further care; 99.8% were treated on site.

Conclusions: In this setting the majority of illnesses and injuries are minor. Visits related to preventive care and hygiene are common. This information can help in planning medical support operations in similar situations.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Fires*
  • Florida / epidemiology
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / therapy