ROD AMMON: Welcome to this special and short edition of CFITrainer.Net’s podcast. This time we’re going to be talking about this year’s International Association of Arson Investigators ITC or International Training Conference. Our audience always wants to know about training opportunities, and they are posted at firearson.com, but we wanted to highlight this year’s conference in Vegas because there’s so much training and networking in one place, so how couldn’t we shout about that a little bit? With me tonight is David Bridges. He is an attorney with Meagher & Geer and an IAAI CFI. David, I’ve been told you took a leading role in this year’s ITC. Why don’t you tell us about your role?
DAVID BRIDGES: Hey, good evening, Rod. Thanks for having me on tonight, and I do want to say that I’ve had the pleasure of working with several other individuals, Trace Lawless, Dan Hebert, Bobby Schaal, Rick Jones, and myself, and we’ve assembled a diverse program that is going to hit our membership, and it’s going to be at the very beginning of their career and experience levels and goes all the way to the most seasoned and advanced investigator, engineer, or claims professional that works in the fire explosion and investigation field.
ROD AMMON: So what are you most excited about?
DAVID BRIDGES: You know, it’s kind of hard to nail down any one offering that we’ve got. Everyone is worth highlighting, but just to name a few, we’ve got Mike Bergeron, who is a former ATF agent, who’s going to be discussing an insurance fraud case that went on for many years and involved multiple fire incidents, a great many of which were ruled to be not incendiary or accidental even. We’ve got several research presentations. To name a few, Greg Gorbett. He’s going to be discussing the use of damage in fire investigation. Dan Madrzykowski is going to be talking about the impact of ventilation on room fires in full-scale structures. Andy Cox is going to be doing a lot of other presentations on those same concepts.
We’ve got wildland fire scene origin and cause investigation. We’ve got a brand new insurance track that is geared for insurance claims professionals from SIU investigators to claims personnel to adjustors and is geared to those individuals who may not necessarily be origin-and-cause experts, but may actually have a large amount of involvement with these claims. We’ve also got classes on NFPA 921, the updates that are coming out in March that are going to be made available to the industry as a whole, and that’s of course very important as well that we’re going to be discussing. We’ve got various engineering and other specialty programs that are geared towards enabling the origin-and-cause investigator to perform a complete investigation and examination of the scene, but actually get in to some of the complex nuanced areas of being able to pinpoint evidence indicative of the origin and/or cause.
ROD AMMON: So how is the facility? Have you been out there?
DAVID BRIDGES: I have. I went to the facility last in 2014. It’s a great facility, and there’s plenty of room. There’s – the presentation halls are great.
ROD AMMON: It’s funny. I asked you that. I was there, too, and I was – it was a nice setup. It was sort of – it was great. You could take advantage of what’s going on in Vegas, but at the same time you really felt that camaraderie and that group that gathered at a location. It wasn’t like the city was overwhelming you. It was like the group of folks that are in the IAAI really got together and networked and did all the things that happened at these training conferences. I think that’s just as big a deal sometimes as all the training and education you just mentioned. It always amazes me when you get hundreds and hundreds of people, and hopefully this year maybe over at – in the thousands zone, when you get all those folks together, how small the industry is when you put together the network and you start to see how important the connections are across the country and around the globe for fire investigators.
DAVID BRIDGES: To that point, I mean one of the things that’s difficult to quantify that you’ll readily see as soon as you attend the events is just we serve a very diverse population. We have people from the public sector. You’ve got law enforcement, fire service, emergency management, other various states – federal, state, and local agencies and prosecutorial arms. Then you’ve got your private sector people who will be there, too, from the claims personnel to origin-and-cause investigators to engineering-specific specialties, and of course, counsel that might deal with those claims from the outset to trial. But in doing so, you’re able to really network and see what works well for other people.
ROD AMMON: You know, I think one of the things we see every year is that the same people always go because they know what they get out of it.
DAVID BRIDGES: For me personally, it’s a no-brainer. I mean I see the value. I mean I’ve got a front-row seat to – especially in the litigation realm and you see the value on making sure that your experts are competent. They’re certified. They’re knowledgeable to handle the issues in play, and they’re able to articulate their findings in a way that makes sense, and I think through your membership, you’re opening the door to so many other effective ways to get these meaningful training opportunities. And by the way, it’s not just that initial I’m going to go to one ITC and be done for the next five years. It’s a continuing obligation that I think the profession demands.
There are numerous industry standards and other guidelines that apply to this field, but it’s a continuing obligation that you have to be in all the time. It’s a perishable skill, too, and I think these training programs we put together, again, not to beat a dead horse, but we try to tailor them to the brand new investigator all the way to the well-seasoned expert who’s testified as an expert numerous times, and quite frankly, who more likely than not presents at these same training concepts. I think – or these training seminars. I think it says a lot when you have instructors that come who are the experts in their field who also say after they present, I want to stay for the rest of the training program. I want to – that’s a class I want to sit in because of the information that’s being delivered.
ROD AMMON: One of the things I wanted to get out of you and maybe the two of us can work together to do this is to visualize for somebody who’s never been there what it’s like. So I’m thinking I’ll start out and then you pick it up, and between the two of us, we’ll stagger through what it’s like to have a week of this, but I’m thinking, first of all, Saturday the board gets together and talks about a lot of things that involve the membership. So the members need to know that the board is spending a whole lot of time in advance of any of the members getting there to have these board meetings and to take advantage of the time when they’re actually in one location to work out the business of the association. So then Sunday happens, and talk about what it’s like rolling into the hotel.
DAVID BRIDGES: So Sunday when the attendees arrive, they’re – it’s not just you’re arriving and you’re registering and you’re going to sit in your room. There are things going on, and there are intentional events planned so that you will interact with others, those welcome receptions, and you’re mingling with those other professionals who may be on the opposite side of the state, opposite side of the country, the opposite side of the world perhaps even from you, and while you may be different from that person in many ways, there are a lot of similarities that bring you together and those connections often last for a lifetime. So those types of activities, when you get there on Sunday, are – they’re intentional. They’re not planned by chance, but it is to stimulate and to encourage that interaction and to kick off the event in a way that’s – that really is going to be meaningful and help set the stage for that or help set the tone of the rest of the week.
ROD AMMON: And as you said, it’s designed to help you – you walk in all alone, and you haven’t had any – you get introduced. You get brought around to people and it’s nice, and then there’s, what – you have cocktail hours and different things that are set up so that, like you said, it keeps you engaged. And then Monday – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday I think, and a little bit of Friday, there are classes going on and all kinds of activities. There’s also things like the annual general meeting. I think it’s the AGM where sometimes there’s votes. There’s business of the association that’s going on, and then there’s also a banquet where a lot of awards are given out, whether it’s investigator of the year or photography awards or pins for people who have been there forever.
And also very important I think that everybody needs to remember is that voting is going on during that week, and as we can imagine, we’re all hoping that they’re voting – people are voting early and often right now, but the voting starts closing up, and the election results get out, and people find out the results of that at the dinner. So a lot going on for the IAAI at the ITC. Anything else you want to add?
DAVID BRIDGES: Attend, participate. There’s plenty of opportunities for you to get involved, and I think you’ll have a great time and get some really meaningful training from some of the world’s most experienced, seasoned, professionals in the fire and explosion industry.
ROD AMMON: And I think it’s important, if you’re one of the people who’s trying to figure out how to get to ITC, to talk to other people that have gone, and you can do this by contacting the office, having them connect you up with either somebody who’s a mentor or somebody who can give you some advice because there are a lot of ways that you can convince an employer or somebody else that you need the time to educate yourself to do the right thing. And getting some of those devices or getting some of those explanations shared might help you to get yourself out to one of these for the first time ever, and from there on in, I have a feeling it would become a regular thing.
DAVID BRIDGES: I mean we’re talking about a very specialized – that is becoming a very specialized industry even more and more by the day, and in doing so, a great many of the people that are attending these, they have supervisors and persons of responsibility that have to approve these things. And so in many ways, you have to break these things down for those people to help them understand the value that you’re bringing. So articulating is key, and I think the IAAI has done a great job with having things in place to make that a little easier, to make that – to lessen that burden in that regard.
ROD AMMON: Thank you very much for closing that up because sometimes I’m not as clear as I’d like to be, but now I’ll move on to reading something over here and say listen, if any of you all want to find out more about this year’s ITC, go to www.IAAIITC.com. That’s the website that’s set up specifically, IAAIITC.com, or you can go to firearson.com and click the link that will take you over to that website, but all the information you need for registration is there as well as a schedule and a promo video that’s exciting and new, and that’s about it. David, I appreciate your time and I know that a lot of the folks that are out there and that are going to go to this year’s ITC appreciate all the work you put into it and all of the team, so have a good night.
DAVID BRIDGES: Thank you, Rod, for having me. It’s been a pleasure, and I look forward to seeing everyone including you at the ITC in Las Vegas.
ROD AMMON: All right, thanks, David. Have a good night.
DAVID BRIDGES: All right, you too.