CFITrainer.Net Podcast

The IAAI and CFITrainer.Net present these podcasts with a focus on issues relating to fire investigation. With expertise from around the world, the International Association of Arson Investigators produces these podcasts to bring more information and electronic media to fire investigators looking for training, education and general information about fire investigation. Topics include recent technologies, issues in the news, training opportunities, changes in laws and standards and any other topic that might be of interest to a fire investigator or industry professional affected by fire. Information is presented using a combination of original stories and interviews with scientists, leaders in fire investigation from the fire service and the law enforcement community.

December 2008 CFITrainer.Net Podcast

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Welcome to the December 2008 CFITrainer.Net Podcast, brought to you by the International Association of Arson Investigators, covering the latest news in fire investigation. In this episode, we’ll learn more about Christmas tree fires, changes to critical fire investigation publications, how the weak economy may impact the incidence of home fires, new research on the effects of wind on structure fires, and what’s in store at the IAAI’s ATC 2009.

First up is our feature story. The holidays are upon us and it’s almost become a cliché that natural Christmas trees are a fire hazard. Is that popular belief really true? Over 30 million natural Christmas trees are sold every year in the United States, but only about 210 fires that began with Christmas trees, natural AND artificial, are reported each year. So, Christmas tree fires are actually quite rare. In fact, Christmas trees are not a major source of residential fires during the holidays. The National Fire Incident Reporting System or NFIRS statistics show that the leading cause of residential building fires in December is cooking; followed by heating fires, open flame fires, and incendiary fires.

Research has shown that dry fir trees provide a large surface area of open flame contact, and they ignite easily, they also contain resin that fuels quick-burning fires. However, "green" Christmas trees are very difficult to burn. In the Scotch Pine Christmas tree tests, National Institute of Standards and Technology or NIST could not ignite a freshly cut, properly cared-for tree using a match or electric match. When a propane torch was applied to the green tree, the branches ignited briefly, but self-extinguished when the torch was withdrawn. Clearly, for the Christmas tree to be the first fuel ignited, it must be a dry tree and in contact with a competent source of ignition.

Of equal interest to the fire investigator should be the actual source of ignition for the tree. In 2007, the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA reported data showing that electrical problems were the factor in nearly half of the fires where a Christmas tree was the first material ignited. In 27% of Christmas tree fires, a heat source too close to the tree was the source of ignition. Candles were the source in 15%. It is important that investigators determine this source of ignition, as well as whether the tree was significantly dry to be a competent first material ignited. Both of these findings should be part of the investigative report and supported by the data collected and the relevant scientific research.

To watch some eye-opening videos of NIST’s Christmas tree tests, visit www.fire.nist.gov/tree_fire.htm that’s www.fire.nist.gov/tree_fire.htm.

Now, on to some quick news briefs.

In the past year, NFPA released new editions of both NFPA 921: The Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations and NFPA 1033: The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigators. These two seminal publications are widely considered crucial for the fire investigator to thoroughly understand. Some sections of 921 have been significantly rewritten, including:

  • Chapter 5, Basic Fire Science
  • Chapter 6, on Fire Patterns
  • Chapter 17, Origin Determination
  • Chapter 25, Motor Vehicle Fires; and
  • Chapter 27, Management of Complex Investigations

In addition, a new chapter on Marine Fire Investigations was added. Changes made in the 2009 Edition of 1033 have increased the minimum knowledge requirements for fire investigators. For more information on these publications, visit nfpa.org..

The economic downturn is affecting many industries and fire investigation is no exception. In the Fall of 2008 survey conducted by the American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association, 79% of Americans said they were concerned about the rising cost of heating their homes. Nearly half said that, to save money, they would use alternative heating sources this winter, including portable space heaters, stoves, ovens and fireplaces. Young adults aged 18-24 were particularly at risk, with 17% saying they will use the oven to keep warm this winter. And, alarmingly, one-third of people with fireplaces reported they never cleaned or inspected their chimneys and 23% of respondents did not consider it essential to make sure someone is home when food is cooking on the stove. The use of alternative heating sources and unsafe practices may lead to an increase in accidental heating-related fires this winter. All fire investigators should be aware of this reality and consider these potential fire causes when working on residential fire scenes.

NIST, The New York City Fire Department, and NYU’s Polytechnic University are in the final stages of completing a series of experiments examining the effects of wind on structure fires. Earlier this year, the partners conducted a series of tests on Governor Island in Manhattan to shed light on firefighting tactics that mitigate wind effects. Both wind characteristics and wind-mitigation firefighting tactics may affect the fire flow and observable patterns in the post-fire investigation. One key finding, shows wind speeds as low as 10-15 miles per hour can whip a “routine" room and contents fire into a floor to ceiling fire storm. The full report will be released very soon and Daniel Madrzykowski of NIST is scheduled to present the findings at IAAI’s Annual Training Conference in May of 2009. Visit fire.gov for more information on the research.

That brings us to our final segment for this podcast: a preview of IAAI’s Annual Training Conference 2009. ATC 2009 will be held from May 17th through the 22nd in Arlington, Texas. Presenters include Dr. John DeHaan, Dr. David Icove, Dr. David Howitt, and criminal investigation experts from the Texas Rangers. Seminar topics include postflashover fires, spontaneous ignition, the scientific method, advanced crime scene documentation, spoliation, and explosions. Special offerings include a full day course on electricity and fire, a week-long 921-based Fundamentals Course and a live Q&A with a serial arsonist. For more information and a conference preview, visit firearson.com.

That’s all for this month’s IAAI podcast. Have a safe and relaxing holiday season and we’ll see you in 2009.

Links:

YFIRES

NFIRS

www.IAAIITC.com

www.firearson.com

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