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. NEW Podcast coming Thursday May 6- National Arson Awareness Week & Arson During Civil Unrest.

2021
May 2021 Podcast - As part of National Arson Awareness Week, CFITrainer.Net has a new podcast exploring the week's theme, "Arson During Civil Unrest."
December 2020 Podcast - On this podcast we talk to Bobby Schaal about the new Fire Investigation for Fire Officer certificate and then we offer a brief update on an investigation in Stowe, Vermont.
August 2020 - This month we talk to a legend in the fire investigation field, Dr. Quintiere, sometimes known as Dr. Q. He has a rich experience in the fire service dating back to the 70’s, and he is working on fire in micro-gravity today.
July 2020 Podcast - July '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this new episode of the CFITrainer.Net podcast, Scott Bennett, talks about the fascinating case he and Mark Shockman worked that won them the IAAI Investigator of the Year Award. You won't want to miss our conversation. And, new IAAI President Rick Jones stops by to discuss what he is excited about for IAAI's growth this coming year — there are a lot of innovative and valuable initiatives on the way.
June 2020 Podcast - June '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this month's podcast we interview Doug Byron, President and Senior Forensic Chemist from the FAST lab about fats and oils and spontaneous combustion, and how they are involved in fire investigation. After our interview with Doug, we offer some thoughts on your job and the COVID-19 situation.
May 2020 Podcast - May '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. Join us this month for a new podcast where we talk briefly about online learning that is available and then we speak with Dr. Peter Mansi, Past President of the IAAI.
April 2020 Podcast - April '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month on the Podcast we interview President Barry M. Grimm from the IAAI and talk to Wayne Miller, Author of "Burn Boston Burn -The largest arson case in the history of the country.
March 2020 Podcast - March '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month on the Podcast we talk about some resources for COVID, updates from the IAAI and talk with a fire Marshall in New Hampshire about challenges in their region related to Sober Homes.
February 2020 Podcast - February '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast follows along with our technology theme. We look at social media’s effect on some fire investigations and then we talk with Mike Parker about his work with social media while at the LA County Sheriff’s Department.
January 2020 Podcast - January '20 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast gives you updates on Australia’s wild fires and an investigation and arrest tied to a large New Jersey fire. We also talk with Zach McCune from Rolfe’s Henry about a case study and course that he and Shane Otto will be leading at ITC this year. Zach talks about an arson fraud case and how spoofing and masking technologies were used to frame an innocent mother and perpetuate an arson fraud.
December 2019 Podcast - December '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In under ten minutes this podcast offers a review of 2019 milestones and new content and features that you might have missed. We also give you a quick preview of what to expect in 2020.
November 2019 Podcast - November '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we learn about two new technology solutions being studied for fire investigation and then we visit with Lester Rich from the National Fire Academy
October 2019 Podcast - October '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this podcast episode, we’re back for the second part of the CCAI live burn training event — the actual burn and post-fire.
September 2019 Podcast - September '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we travel to San Luis Obispo where we were hosted by the California chapter of the IAAI (CCAI). We had a rare opportunity to experience what it’s like to set up this training and experience a wildland burn in California. There was a lot to learn!
August 2019 Podcast - August '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's CFITrainer.Net podcast is under 15 minutes and offers information about fires in electric vehicles and what you need to know.
May 2019 Podcast - May '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this month's CFITrainer.Net podcast, you'll hear from ATF Special Agent Chad Campanell, who will discuss how ATF can assist state and local fire investigators with training and investigations, ATF resources available to fire investigators, and ATF's support of CFITrainer.Net. Also, we summarize the final report of a multi-fatality fire at a senior living community in Pennsylvania, where ATF cooperated with state and local investigators to reach conclusions.
April 2019 Podcast - April '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. There are two new additions to CFITrainer.Net! A new podcast with Dan Madrzykowski from UL speaking about ventilation and Fire Flow, and a new module called “Fire Flow Analysis”.
March 2019 Podcast - March '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast includes updates from the IAAI related to the election, the upcoming ITC, and a new website specifically about evidence collection. After the updates, you will also hear some news stories related to fire investigation.
February 2019 Podcast - February '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month take 10 mins and hear some fire investigation and IAAI news.
January 2019 Podcast - January '19 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we’re looking back on some of the biggest issues in fire investigation in 2018.
November 2018 Podcast - November '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we talk with Jeff Pauley from the IAAI’s Health and Safety Committee. Jeff is an IAAI-CFI and the Chairman of the Health and Safety Committee. In this podcast, he talks about ways to reduce exposure to carcinogens related to fire investigation. By listening, you will learn about ways to reduce your risks, learn about new resources that are available to assist you, and research that is coming soon.
October 2018 Podcast - October '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month meet and learn about IAAI’s new Executive Director, Scott Stephens and plans for the future. After that interview, hear some wild stories from the national news related to fire investigation.
September 2018 News Roundup - September '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts.
Short stories related to fire investigation - June '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. Join us for a brief Podcast that includes five minutes of short stories related to fire investigation.
What you need to know about Arson Awareness week - April '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we welcome Tonya Hoover, the Superintendent of the National Fire Academy. Superintendent Hoover came to the NFA with more than 20 years of experience in local and state government, most recently as the California State Fire Marshal.
Growing pot and earning Bitcoin can start fires? - March '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this month’s podcast, hear a story about how the Bitcoin business might be causing fires? What similarities are there between Pot growers and now Bitcoin miners?
Training related to wildland fire investigation - February '18 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast highlights new training related to wildland fire investigation featuring an interview with Paul Way, and this year’s International Training Conference. We also have a pretty wild story before we wrap up. Birds starting fires?
Smart homes and digital data gathering issues - December '17 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this podcast, we discuss two topics on the technology and forensics cutting edge. Michael Custer of Kilgore Engineering, Inc. and retired Special Agent Tully Kessler share some knowledge and give us a taste of the classes that they will be presenting at ITC 2018.
Discussion with Writer Monica Hesse - September '17 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this podcast, you will hear some great news related to the IAAI and CFITrainer.Net and then we have an interview with Monica Hesse, the writer of a new book called "American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land."
Discussion with Criminalist- John DeHaan - June '17 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month on the CFITrainer.Net podcast, we talk to Criminalist, fire investigation expert and Author of "Kirk’s Fire Investigation", John DeHaan.
The Ghost Ship - May '17 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. For this podcast, we hear from a retired Captain of the Long Beach Fire Department, Pat Wills. Pat has been in the fire service for 37 years. He has been a leader and an investigator, now he is an educator speaking around the country about the importance of code enforcement.
Fast Podcast about ITC! - March '17 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we talk to David Bridges about what to expect at ITC and the training you won’t want to miss.
CFITrainer Podcast- A profile with an IAAI-CFI® - February '17 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. Join us this month for our podcast as we interview IAAI member and CFI, Jeff Spaulding from Middletown, Ohio. Jeff talks about his work in both the public and private sector and then he shares an interesting story about how a pacemaker is helping in an investigation.
An interview with Dr. James Quintiere - December '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In a discussion with Dr. James Quintiere, we learn about some of his work in fire sciences, a bit about his research, his opinions related to the World Trade Center investigation and what he thinks is important to fire investigation as a scholarly leader in our field.
Fire Investigation After the Flood Podcast - November '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we talk to Dan Hebert, an IAAI, CFI about "How Floods affect Fire Investigation."
September 2016 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - September '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we talk about the recent changes in the FAA's regulations for commercial and public sector use of UAS or "Drones".
August 2016 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - August '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we talk to Jessica Gotthold about the Seaside Heights fire in NJ from 2013
July 2016 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - July '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we talk to Fire Marshall, Ken Helms of the Enid, OK. Fire Department about his team winning the Fire Investigator of the Year award.
March 2016 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - March '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's fire investigation podcast from the IAAI's CFITrainer.Net focuses on the Youth Firesetting Information Repository and Evaluation System, which is called YFIRES for short.
February 2016 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - February '16 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's fire investigation podcast from the IAAI's CFITrainer.Net focuses on what you need to do to ensure the integrity of samples sent to the lab. A conversation with Laurel Mason of Analytical Forensic Associates.
September 2015 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - September '15 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. Our podcast related to the legalization of recreational marijuana and its effect on fire investigation was one of the most popular podcasts ever on CFITrainer.Net. This month’s podcast is a follow up with one of our listeners from California who is an investigator doing training on this very topic.
August 2015 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - August '15 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast is about NFIRS where we interview the Executive Director of The National Association of State Fire Marshals Fire Research and Education Foundation, Jim Narva.
July 2015 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - July '15 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. In this special edition of podcast we’re going to meet the newest IAAI Investigator of the Year, Andrea Buchanan.
May 2015 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - May '15 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's Arson Investigator podcast from IAAI & CFITrainer interviews Jason McPherson from MSD Engineering to talk about some of these new technology tools.
April 2015 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - April '15 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's Arson Investigator podcast from IAAI & CFITrainer interviews Dave Perry, a lawyer in Colorado discussing what fire chiefs, fire investigators, and the legal system are seeing in a state with legalized cannabis in regard to fire cause involving marijuana.
February 2015 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - Feb '15 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's Arson Investigator podcast from IAAI & CFITrainer interviews Mike Schlatman and Steve Carman who are both successful fire investigators and now business owners who have transitioned from the public to the private sector.
December 2014 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - December '14 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast interviews Steve Avato from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives explaining the process of elimination and how it is a critical part of the scientific method.
June 2014 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - June '14 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast interviews the 2014 Investigator of the Year.
April 2014 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - April '14 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast interviews with Don Robinson, Special Agent in Charge with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Currently stationed at the National Center for Explosives Training and Research, located at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama.
January 2014 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - January '14 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast takes a look inside the process of revising NFPA 921 and NFPA 1033.
October 2013 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - October '13 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast focuses on the fire research work of Underwriters’ Laboratories, better known as UL.
February 2013 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - February '13 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month we have an interview with George Codding who returned from a recent trip to Saipan and gives us a closer look at the international activities of the International Association of Arson Investigators
Mid Year 2012 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - Mid Year '12 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This podcast features a mid-year update on the IAAI’s new initiatives and ways for you to get more involved with the organization.
September 2012 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - September '12 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features an in-depth look at the recent live-burn fire experiments exercise conducted on Governor’s Island, New York by the New York City Fire Department, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Underwriters Laboratory, and the Trust for Governor’s Island.
August 2012 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - August '12 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This is a special edition of the CFITrainer.Net podcast previewing the ITC 2013. There’s a new name for the Annual Training Conference from the IAAI now called the International Training conference.
April 2012 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - April '12 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features an interview with Chief Ernest Mitchell, Jr., the US Fire Administrator. Also we will discuss the upcoming ATC, Annual Training Conference, from the IAAI about to happen in Dover, Delaware.
March 2012 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - March '12 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features an interview with ATF Special Agent Billy Malagassi out of the Tulsa, OK Field Office about investigating fires in clandestine drug labs. We also report on NIST’s findings in the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire and IAAI’s Evidence Collection Practicum.
December 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - December '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features one of the presenters from this year’s IAAI ATC and see how a single photo broke the Provo Tabernacle fire case.
October 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - October '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features an interview with Deborah Nietch, the new Executive Director of IAAI.
July 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - July '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features an interview with Tom Fee discussing details of investigating wildland fires.
June 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - June '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month's podcast features a lot of exciting things that are happening at CFITrainer.Net
May 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - May '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month highlights the IAAI ATC in Las Vegas and the third installment in the "It Could Happen to You" series.
ATC 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - This podcast discusses the upcoming IAAI Annual Training Conference and National Arson Awareness Week.
April 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - April '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This podcast announces the release of the program, The First Responder’s Role in Fire Investigation, which teaches first responders how to make critical observations and take important scene preservation actions at a fire scene.
March 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - March '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features some of the instructors from the upcoming 2011 Annual Training Conference, to provide a preview of the courses they will be presenting.
February 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - February '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features an update on fire grants and an interview with Steve Austin
January 2011 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - January '11 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features the release of the new edition of Fire Investigator: Principles and Practice to NFPA 921 and 1033, new flammability requirements from UL for pre-lit artificial Christmas trees and a growing fire problem in Dubai with factories turned into worker dormitories.
December 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - December '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast focuses on home candle fires, lightning punctures in gas piping, and respiratory diseases in the fire services.
November 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - November '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features research findings for structural stability in engineered lumber by UL, the ban on antifreeze in residential sprinkler systems, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation of Jeep Grand Cherokee fuel tanks.
October 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - October '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features high-profile fire cases, why people leave stovetop cooking unattended and how new sensors under development may improve fire research.
September 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - September '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features how to use the ATF’s Bomb Arson Tracking System, IAAI Foundation grants, electrical fires and indoor marijuana cultivation.
August 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - August '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast focuses on social media as a fire investigation tool, a potential problem with modular home glued ceilings and research from Underwriters Laboratories on the effects of ventilation on structure fires.
July 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - July '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast is a roundtable on some of the latest research and technical activities that impact fire investigation, featuring Daniel Madrzykowski (moderator), Steven Kerber, and Dr. Fred Mowrer.
June 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - June '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast discusses career advancement, budget cuts and their impact on fire investigation, and the 2010-2016 ATF Strategic Plan.
ATC 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - Follow-up and Interviews from Orlando. Learn about the conference, hear what attendees had to say.
May 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - May '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. The second in our safety series called "It Could Happen To You." Our Long-Term Exposure roundtable is moderated by Robert Schaal.
April 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - April '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. The first of our two-part safety series called "It Could Happen To You." Our roundtable is moderated by Robert Schaal.
March 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - March '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features a conversation about legislative affairs affecting the fire service with Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Research Institute.
February 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - February '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features our interview with a commercial kitchen’s fire expert about what you need to know when you work a commercial kitchen fire.
January 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - January '10 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features a look at preliminary research on corrosion caused by Chinese drywall, a new database focused on fires in historic buildings, a warning on blown-in insulation, and the launch of the new firearson.com web site.
December 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - December '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features cooking fires, highlights of the International Code Council’s Annual Meeting on code requirements, including requiring residential sprinkler systems, and an easy way to keep up with recalls from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
November 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - November '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features chimney fires, including recent news on surgical flash fires, a proposed national arsonist registry, lightning research and an innovation in personal protective equipment.
October 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - October '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast is devoted to Fire Prevention Week.
September 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - September '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features the relationship between climate conditions and fire risk, new research on formulating fireproof walls and the latest in IAAI news.
August 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - August '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month takes a look at the dangerous combination of summer heat and oily rags, the rise in vacant home fires, and preview research underway on Australia’s devastating "Black Saturday" brush fires.
July 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - July '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month features a look at outdoor grill fires, a fatal fire at a homeless camp in Southern NJ, new NIST research on human behavior during building fires, and IAAI news.
June 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - June '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features live reports from the 2009 IAAI Annual Training Conference held in May.
May 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - May '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This podcast is dedicated to National Arson Awareness Week.
April 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - April '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features the NFPA 921 chapter on marine fire investigations and the myth and reality of static electricity as a source of ignition.
March 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - March '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month focuses on the rise of the hybrid vehicle and what its unique engineering means for the investigation of vehicle fires, the rash of devastating arson fires in Coatesville, Pennsylvania from December 2008 to February 2009, and news from IAAI.
January 2009 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - January '09 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast focuses on the deepening financial crisis in the US and arson for profit fires, how going green may pose a fire hazard and see how rope lighting may be a source of ignition, and IAAI’s Expert Witness Courtroom Testimony course.
December 2008 CFITrainer.Net Podcast - December '08 IAAI & CFITrainer Fire Investigator Podcasts. This month’s podcast features Christmas tree fires, changes to critical fire investigation publications, the weak economy’s impact on home fires, wind’s effect on structure fires, and ATC 2009.

Rod Ammon: Welcome to the CFITrainer.net podcast. Today, we talk to Texas Ranger Sergeant Drew Pilkington about incendiary fires as a cover for murder. We'll discuss a tragic quadruple domestic violence homicide, where a fire also occurred. A little later in the podcast, we'll explain how a new CFITrainer.net feature, official transcripts, can help you provide verified documentation of your training. We'll close with recent news stories about fires sparked by pyrotechnics at gender reveal parties. As always, we hope you'll share the podcast with your peers or reach out to us via the feedback form on this page.

Fatal fires are always devastating and probably one of the toughest things to cope with in the fire service but when that fire may be a cover for another crime like murder, the investigation takes on a new dimension. With us today to talk about fire as a cover for murder is Texas Rangers Sergeant Drew Pilkington of the Texas Department of Public Safety. He's been with the Texas DPS for 22 years, first as a highway patrol trooper, then a criminal investigation division agent and now as a Texas Ranger. He also serves on the statewide Texas Rangers major crime scene team. Sergeant Pilkington is a fire and arson investigator with the Victoria County Fire Marshal's Office and a Victoria County Fire Department volunteer firefighter. He's an IAAI FIT and an IAAI ECT as well as a commissioned Texas fire and arson investigator, fire instructor and police instructor. Sergeant Pilkington, welcome to the podcast.

Drew Pilkington: Good morning. Thank you.

Rod Ammon: It's good to have you on and we appreciate your time. A lot of people don't get to go to Texas but we hear a whole lot about your country. Why don't you tell us what it's like to work in Texas in your area specifically for the Rangers?

Drew Pilkington: It's really good. I'm located in South Texas. And so Texas obviously as large as it is, the different regions and different areas has its own diversities and advantages. Down here we deal a lot more with heat and humidity but it's a really good area. It's been a great career with the Department of Public Safety, we're the state police of Texas and particularly in the Texas Rangers, we're the primary criminal investigative agency for the state. We assist the local agencies in areas that they may not have expertise, experience, training or equipment. Most of my days are assisting local sheriffs' offices and police departments with criminal investigations. Most of them are violent or heinous crimes and others are just complex, whether it be a white collar or public corruption type crime.

Rod Ammon: All right. Thanks for that background. Let's get to our focus now and talk about fire investigations, when a fatality is involved. How does that change your investigation?

Drew Pilkington: In Texas, we have the state fire marshal's office, which is they do the primary origin and cause investigations and once a fatality or a death has been discovered within the fire, they usually utilize the Texas Rangers or a local agency to then assist with that death investigation. That's where I come in with the state, with the Texas Rangers to assist with the not just the death investigation but more specifically focusing if it is a homicidal death.

Rod Ammon: A fire investigator's out there on the scene, they find a body, they put out a phone call and you head out?

Drew Pilkington: That's correct. For the most part, my local agencies keep me aware of what's going on. Regular fires they're not just calling me, telling me, "Hey, there's a regular fire." But once a dispatcher, once a investigator learns that there's been a body discovered, when there's a death within the fire, they'll notify me. If they haven't reached out to the state fire marshal's office themself, I'll reach out to them. And we have a cooperative working response. They respond, I'll assist with processing the scene for them and digging out the fire. When we get to the body, we work the body together. And then particularly once it becomes a homicide, determine homicide through obvious means or autopsy I work with then the local, whether it's a sheriff's department or police department in furthering that criminal investigation.

Rod Ammon: You're at the scene now, there's a fatality. What changes physically? Is the scene more secure? What do you do differently?

Drew Pilkington: The main thing is to slow down. Now the focus is a particular attention to around the body's mechanism of injury. Other items that may be involved, starting to look at the environment and the position and was this accidental? Was it in the midst of an escape? Or could this have been an intentional act?

Rod Ammon: Yeah, and our conversation today is about how people try to cover up a homicide by using fire. And I'm thinking we'll get into a little bit of that as we move ahead here but can you give us an outline of a death investigation process? Now that you know there's this fatality, you've gotten to the body, who are the different people that are involved and what are their roles? How do they interact?

Drew Pilkington: In the main part, we start off with obviously the fire investigator and taking that one step back to the line firefighter, who discovered the body? And whether it was discovered during suppression or during overhaul or unfortunately, if it was missed and then discovered a little bit later. We have to figure out who discovered the body and understanding the surroundings. The area immediately around the body is so important and contains so much evidence. And that's when I say we slow down. That's we really focus on the type of evidence that you're looking for in the sifting and going through the debris to look for it. It might even be as small as a bullet projectile, let alone a sharp object or blunt force object.

Now we step then next to the fire investigator. Now the fire investigator deals with the body and then so some investigators are commissioned law enforcement or sworn law enforcement. Some are purely just investigators. That determines the role of how much authority I have to bring as a police officer to that investigation or how much of a cooperative working effort we're going to have because we can both criminally work that fire together.

Rod Ammon: What other folks show up supporting your investigation from a forensics perspective?

Drew Pilkington: Depending on the area, so the local entity, whoever is a jurisdiction have an authority? Like I said, it's going to be the sheriff's office. If it's in an unincorporated area or a police department. And their detectives or homicide detectives will show up. Most of my agencies, we're dealing with agencies that might have six to eight officers so they don't have the means or ability to have a dedicated crime scene unit. Larger ones do. They'll bring their crime scene unit, crime scene techs out. But for the most part, I'm working hand in hand with just another homicide investigator who is the one typically processing evidence, fingerprints, collecting fingerprints, collecting evidence. There's a lot of educating going on in directing and how I want them to collect the evidence to ensure that it's collected properly, packaged properly, preserved.

Rod Ammon: Yeah, as it seems these days, the fire investigator's role and the leadership becomes bigger and bigger all the time and the amount of information you need to have. Interesting. I've spoken to quite a few people who say, "We wish we had these big units but a lot of times we're out doing all of this ourselves."

Drew Pilkington: Yes. And educating. And you always, you have those that want to help and it's that fine line of understand you want to help but to preserve the integrity of the evidence, the collection, the processing, to ensure that it's admitted into court, it's kind of like, please let me do my job.

Rod Ammon: Well, that might lead us into my next question, which was about common pitfalls when there's been a fire death.

Drew Pilkington: One of the largest is just moving the body prematurely or unnecessarily, destroying evidence unintentionally.

Rod Ammon: Okay. Let's talk specifically about incendiary fire being used to cover up a homicide or as an actual method of homicide. How does an investigator identify that this has happened rather than the person dying from a fire in an accidental or unintentional manner?

Drew Pilkington: One of the most pronounced ways is through the postmortem examination, which particularly would be the autopsy. Using the pathologist, using them to have that determination, which is your scientific forensic evidence utilized in court. You're having now a doctor testify to the cause or manner of death.

Rod Ammon: It's interesting that you go right to that because you started out by saying, "Hey, we got to be so careful not to move the body, not to do anything to mess with the evidence." And obviously there's a lot of important work that's happening right there but this incredibly powerful tool of having an autopsy is there down the road. And obviously, I guess not moving that body and doing whatever you can do to preserve that evidence can only help with the autopsy, I guess.

Drew Pilkington: Correct. And just like in fire service and law enforcement, everybody has their specialties. And so knowing when you find a pathologist that has a very good knack at understanding what the body goes through in a fire, whether it's a postmortem, perimortem, at the time of death or pre-death really aids in their report and their findings that supplement and facilitates your investigation. And for us, it's almost incumbent that we attend every autopsy for our death investigations. As simple as it might seem, if it's just what we call questionable deaths, which may just be natural, may be accidental, may be suicide. But by taking the time and going there and observing the autopsy, which we have that ability here through our facilities and understand some facilities, don't let you observe. But making that relationship with that doctor, talking to them, let them educate you. Just as much as they want to be educated about the scene, bring your crime scene photos with you.

Hey Doc, let me explain the scene to you. This is what I saw. This is what we had. This is what we found. And then as they're going through the autopsy, asking those questions because the more involved you are, the more the doctor's going to like you and say, "This person cares about this investigation and they want to learn more. They want to know." And it gives them the buy in that we need, not saying that they're not going to not do a great job but the more buy in they have into this investigation and understanding it will help you in the long run.

Rod Ammon: Yeah. Great to hear it. It's interesting because one of my questions was going to be on television, we always see the investigator go in to the autopsy. Does that really happen? And you already told us, yeah. But you said, in some cases it can or cannot happen. Let's say you're a fire investigator or fire officer working a scene with a fire death and you recognize the possibility that the fire may have been set to cover a homicide or actually cause the death. What changes when this possibly first arises? What do you do? I heard you say slow down and contact some other resources.

Drew Pilkington: I like resources. And scene security. That's one of the big, big issues that we have is controlling scene access, scene security and evidence contamination. Obviously, if it does go to trial, that's going to come into question of who all was there? Who possibly could have had access to this area and contaminated the area, cross-contaminated it? We hate to think that they had a malicious intent to alter the area but knowing who is there. As a fire officer, you're on scene, your crew tells you, "We've discovered a body." Okay, where? First is where? And start working that perimeter out. If that area is secure and can be sealed, secure it, seal it, post a firefighter as guard if that's all you have, if not, a responding officer and start working your way out to the entire scene so you can encompass the entire scene. As we typically put up the yellow barrier tape all the way around, realize what is our primary crime scene?

Rod Ammon: You have a specific case example. I think it was the Cumpean Lane fire.

Drew Pilkington: Yes.

Rod Ammon: Am I saying that right?

Drew Pilkington: Yes. Cumpean.

Rod Ammon: Cumpean. Okay. And could you talk a little bit about the city where it was at and how you experienced it, how you became involved with the case?

Drew Pilkington: In this particular fire, happened January 2015. It's in a rural area of Calhoun County. Calhoun County is on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Rod Ammon: East side of Texas.

Drew Pilkington: South, a little bit on the Southeast side, it's about two hours south of Houston area.

Rod Ammon: Or an hour maybe north of Corpus Christi, I guess?

Drew Pilkington: Correct.

Rod Ammon: Okay.

Drew Pilkington: Almost in between the two. And in this particular area, the residence was located just outside the city limits of Port Lavaca. Port Lavaca, it's the county seat in the main city. There's two other smaller cities within that county. It's a pretty small rural county. I would say the population is not more than 20 to 30,000. With rural, I believe they have a paid on call fire department.

Rod Ammon: And so how did you become involved in the case? And what was your role?

Drew Pilkington: I became involved, the fire was reported early in the morning, about 4:40 or so in the morning. Once sunlight came up later that morning, is when they discovered, observed a deceased individual located in the structure. Additionally, three other children were then reported missing. And so with that, they weren't readily found in the structure. We're thinking, did a relative take them? Did somebody else have them? And so the local fire department contacted the state fire marshal's office directly. They responded out. When they observed the victim, it was quite apparent that she had several stab wounds on her, visible trauma to her body. And so the sheriff's office contacted me. In and around the same time, the state fire marshal's office had contacted me and requested my assistance to come down to help them with this.

Rod Ammon: Rough story. Had to be tough to work. You show up, I'm guessing at this point, you're brought to the scene to examine the female victim. How did they find the children?

Drew Pilkington: And that's where, like you said, as a rough story, that's just the saddening part of our job and where it's how much worse can it get? There were two other state fire marshal investigators there with me, Dean Shirley was the main investigator.

Rod Ammon: Say the name of that main investigator again. You dropped out for a second.

Drew Pilkington: Dean Shirley. And so Dean was out there. And as the main investigator who dealt with and he had his canine state fire marshal canine captain was out there, Tommy Pleasant. And so between Dean, Tommy and Todd Josie was another investigator out there. The four of us, it was like, hey, unfortunately, what we see in a lot of rural environments, we're working together is they're like, "Hey, body inside." And everybody leaves or everybody backs up. I don't want anything to do with this. Between the five of us basically is we're processing this scene. As we're going through, I'm assisting them as they're working the fire. We know we have one body inside and we're still trying to locate the children. And as we're going through this structure is when we find the charred remains of what we believe were two children. And these children, the victim self was the 23 year old mother.

Drew Pilkington: And so we have a four year old boy and what we believe was a two year old girl and we're still missing a two month old baby. And so as we're going through, and again, just now it's we're really going slow because the remains are heavily charred. And the care you have to take packaging human remains to ensure when they get to the medical examiner for autopsy, they're in as good a condition as you can preserve them to be from when they're on scene. And that comes into other crime scene classes and processing and packaging evidence and understanding the changes that they take just from transport. And it's as simple as in this scene, our mortician came out and they bring an adult body bag. And now we have, at the time we believe two children and it's you can't just adapt. They make children body bags, they make infant body bags. And so as part of the Texas Rangers, we have to carry our own bags too, for these situations so we're able to then package specifically in this crime scene processing.

Rod Ammon: You found at this point, you've got a person, the mother who's obviously been stabbed, you've found two of the children and you're missing a baby. And how did you find the child?

Drew Pilkington: As we removed the two older children and we're laying them down and by the means of how they were, they were laid on the bed together side by side. And so as we were photographing, documenting, taking our measurements, is when we realize through identifying or visually observing the different bones and structures is when we found the two month old baby was in between the four year old and a two year old. And so all three were laying together.

Rod Ammon: Woo. Yeah, well thanks for doing a good investigation or a great investigation. I'm guessing that your female victim, I'm guessing you told me that your female victim had obvious stab wounds.

Drew Pilkington: Correct.

Rod Ammon: How did you find out about the children?

Drew Pilkington: That came through the autopsy and that was a huge determining factor in the charges to be filed and ultimately the prosecution and what we found and the pathologist was able to go through and this is a classic example where we're dealing with just a small, charred remains of a torso and very easily, somebody can be like nobody can do anything with what you have there. Nobody can work with that. Why spend the money? Looking at it from the authoritative side, authorizing it. We get into the autopsy and we utilized Travis County medical examiner's office, which is a teaching hospital up in Austin and through their work, they were able to find internal organs and find a single stab wound that entered the back through the lung and pierced the heart of the children. And so it's by that alone was our means for identifying the cause of death.

Rod Ammon: Wow. A lot going on there and I guess this realization changed the investigation. Tell us about the conclusion of the case.

Drew Pilkington: With this, we had the obvious death of the mother. Believe they determined through trachea and other means that she was dead before the fire had occurred. With the three children and they didn't have the airway and the other structures to determine whether they were alive or dead at the time of the fire but we still have their death. In Texas you have murder intentionally causing the death of another but then we have capital murder. Capital murder can be from the causing the death of a child less than 10 years old. All three of our children were less than 10 so the suspect in this case is the father of the three children, the husband of our lady.

He had turned himself, he showed up at the local hospital with self inflicted wounds and tried to state that he might've been in a fight or something else but we were later able to determine they were all self inflicted. Through our video surveillance, we seen him leaving that residence prior to the same video showing the smoke appearing and then the fire. He had actually padlocked the front door to the residence for people to not be able to escape. And so we charged him with the three counts of capital murder, three to the children and then one count of murder for his wife.

Rod Ammon: And I'm guessing he's gone away for a long time.

Drew Pilkington: Correct. It's a capital murder. Has arranged from the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. He took a plea agreement for two life without parole sentencings.Rod Ammon: Boy, a rough story but a lot to learn and a lot to share, which we're very grateful for. And I thank you for going through that again with us. Thanks for talking with us today. I know you were scheduled to teach a class on this at the 2021 ITC. And unfortunately, just like with your autopsy, I can't believe that was affected by COVID-19 but the ITC was also canceled and we'll look forward to a session that class being rescheduled in the near future I hope.

Yes. Looking forward to that. Valuable information. And I think for everybody just like ITC, just the continual learning that never stops. You picked something up even though you've been there before, you're going to pick something up at the next class.

Rod Ammon: Well, Sergeant Pilkington, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.

Drew Pilkington: Thank you, Rod.

Rod Ammon: You be well.

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Our final news item today is about a recent spate of deaths caused by explosions at gender reveal parties. If you're not familiar with this, it's become a trend for people expecting a baby to have a party where they reveal the baby's sex using a trick like cutting a cake colored pink or blue inside or popping a balloon with pink or blue confetti in it. Some people have decided that the way to make this reveal is with an explosion or a pyrotechnic display or a cannon confetti. Recently, several of these devices have caused deaths, injuries and significant damage at these parties. In 2017, a gender reveal explosion in Arizona sparked a fire that burned 47,000 acres. In 2019 it happened in Florida. In 2020, a smoke bomb at agenda reveal ignited the El Dorado fire in California, more than 20,000 people had to evacuate from the El Dorado fire. Nearly 23 acres burned. The couple hosting that gender reveal party were indicted on 30 charges in July 2021, including involuntary manslaughter in the death of a firefighter who perished fighting the El Dorado blaze.

At least three other people have been killed in gender reveal party explosions in the last two years, including a grandmother in Iowa, the father to be in New York, a male guest from Michigan. In all of these fatality cases, the explosive devices were homemade, including a cannon that functioned like a pipe bomb. This is an opportunity for fire investigators and safety educators to join together to educate the public on the dangers and the illegality of creating devices like this. Reach out to your local fire department public educators to talk about how you can bring this safety message, including through healthcare practitioners and family support educations.

This podcast and CFITrainer.net are made possible by funding from a fire prevention and safety grant from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program administered by FEMA and the US Department of Homeland Security, support from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and voluntary online donations from CFITrainer.net users and podcast listeners. We thank you for those contributions.

Rod Ammon: Thanks for joining us today on the podcast. Stay safe. We'll see you next time. For the IAAI and CFITrainer.net, I'm Rod Ammon.