Article Text


The benefits of data linkage for firefighter injury surveillance
  1. Shannon A Widman1,
  2. Michael T LeVasseur2,
  3. Loni P Tabb2,
  4. Jennifer A Taylor1
  1. 1Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  2. 2Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jennifer A Taylor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University, 1505 Race Street MS 1034, Philadelphia, PA 19102, USA; Jat65{at}


Background While survey data are available for national estimates of fire events and firefighter fatalities, data on firefighter injury at the national and local levels remain incomplete and unreliable. Data linkage provides a vehicle to maximise case detection and deepen injury description for the US fire service.

Methods By linking departmental Human Resources records, despatch data, workers' compensation and first reports of injury, researchers were able to describe reported non-fatal injuries to 3063 uniformed members of the Philadelphia Fire Department (PFD), for the period of 2005 through 2013.

Results Among all four databases, the overall linkage rate was 56%. Among three of the four databases, the linkage rate was 88%. Because there was duplication of some variables among the datasets, we were able to deeply describe all the linked injuries in the master database. 45.5% of uniformed PFD members reported at least one injury during the study period. Strains, falls, burns and struck-by injuries were the most common causes. Burns resulted in the highest lost time claim payout, and strains accounted for the highest medical claim cost. More than 70% of injuries occurred in the first 15 years of experience.

Discussion Data linkage provided three new benefits: (1) creation of a new variable—years of experience, (2) reduction of misclassification bias when determining cause of injury, leading to more accurate estimates of cost and (3) visualisation of injury rates when controlling for the number of fire department responses, allowing for the generation of hypotheses to investigate injury hot spots.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Contributors All authors gave considerable contribution to one or more of the following conditions for authorship: study design, data acquisition, analysis and interpretation of results, or intellectual content. All authors gave final approval of the manuscript for publication.

  • Funding This research was supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, Fire Prevention and Safety Grants (Research & Development)––grant numbers EMW-2009-FP-00427 and EMW-2012-FP-00205.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval Drexel University Institutional Review Board, DHS/FEMA Office of Research Compliance.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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