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.
<p>INTERVIEWER: Welcome to the April 2009 CFITrainer.Net podcast. Today we’ll learn more about the new NFPA 921 chapter on marine fire investigations and take a closer look at the myth and reality of static electricity as a source of ignition. Let’s get to it. The new edition of NFPA 921 includes a brand new chapter on marine fire investigation. This new content focuses on fire and explosion investigations involving recreational boats including safety issues due to environmental contaminants and protocols for fire investigators on boats afloat or underwater. The Coast Guard reports over $10 million in damages caused annually by boat fires and explosions on recreational vessels alone. To give us a better idea of why this aspect of fire investigation warrants its own treatment in 921 is Steve Carmen. He’s the President and Owner of Carmen & Associates Fire Investigation. He’s a former ATF CFI, and before working with the ATF he was a Coast Guard Officer for six years. Hi Steve, thanks for joining us. </p>
<p>STEVE: Thank you Rod.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Steve, can you tell us, why do you think the 921 committee felt that marine fire investigations should have their own chapter?</p>
<p>STEVE: Well as you mentioned, the number of marine fires in the United States alone is very high. The losses from these fires can also be higher than normal related to house fires because they have, in many cases, a much higher risk of personal injury then might be the situation with a typical shore based first because if a boat’s at sea and the vessel catches on fire. The problems could be much more catastrophic. So I think the 921 committee decided to take the basic principles outlined in 921 and extend them out to investigators that are facing perhaps their first or even multiple investigation in the marine environment.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: In what key ways do marine fires differ from structure fires on land?</p>
<p>STEVE: That’s a tough question. A lot of it depends on where the fire occurs. For instance, there’s all sorts of vessels out there, everything from small recreational boats around ten or fifteen feet long up to the thousand foot long ultra large crude carriers. Each one of these boats has a different type of situation that’s going to affect how fires will spread if they occur and also how they might occur in the first place. So because of that great difference, investigators have to be familiar with a lot of the different types of environments they’re going to be looking at and also the ways in which the different vessels are being used.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Could you give some examples of types of marine investigations based on the smaller or larger size vessels?</p>
<p>STEVE: Well with recreational boats, for instance, the Coast Guard reported that between 1998 and 2007 there were about 1620 fires alone that just involved fuel or fuel systems on the boats. A lot of times these vessels are gasoline powered, they are, in some cases, newer boats that have a lot of the safety systems installed. In other cases you might have older boats that aren’t as well equipped. And then these boats can work in all sorts of environments. They could be involved in generally calm lakes or rivers or they might operate out at sea where you have not only the motion of the sea that can cause vibrations and weaknesses in the boat over time, but you also have the elements of corrosion that can take place. That’s something that doesn’t happen a lot of times with the typical structure fire. These other elements will come into play. Also, a lot of the vessels have DC wiring as well as AC wiring, and as far as an investigation goes, many investigators are typically used to conducting electrical fire scene investigations based on the typical AC wiring.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What unique challenges do marine fires pose for fire investigators?</p>
<p>STEVE: Well, again, the challenges are going to be dependent on a lot of things. Number one, the size and the typical use of the vessel. Modern vessels that are recreational boats are predominantly fiberglass reinforced plastic or wood, some are metal, but in many cases, when those catch fire, you have near total loss. So that’s one type of thing that might happen. Number two is in a small boat like that knowing that the investigation may involve a boat that’s in the water at the time of the fire, the investigator may actually end up having to employ scuba resources or something along those lines in order to get to the remains of the boat.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Steve, could you talk briefly about the additional expertise necessary, and are there safety issues around maritime fire investigations?</p>
<p>STEVE: The safety issues can involve anything from confined space examinations to instability of the boat if it’s still in the water, scuba qualified people to go down and get photos, or in some cases there are investigations, if they’re important enough, such as in fatality fires, have involved underwater robot examination of the boats. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Why don’t you share a story with us about a larger investigation that you’re aware of in the maritime field and some of the challenges that were around that fire investigation.</p>
<p>STEVE: Sure. One example, like you were talking about, of an investigation that occurred on a large ship, was in the early 80s. At the time there was an American tanker called the Puerto Rican that was leaving San Francisco on one Halloween night, and it got offshore from San Francisco and we received a report that there had been an explosion. Well as it turned out, tanker broke in half as a result of the explosion, and the two pieces—the stern portion and the bow portion—both floated for a few days and finally the stern sank, and that was the part that had the pilot house and the accommodation spaces and whatnot. Well the bow remained afloat and it was eventually towed to port, and then the investigation had to figure out why did this vessel explode? Theories ranged from everything to some terrorists had somehow wrapped a detonation cord across the vessel to normal contents that the ship had on board in terms of oils or chemicals that might have led to a flammable mixture, that sort of thing. So what occurs as a result of an investigation like this is that it can reach even to the level of an NTSB investigation of an airliner crash. They’re very complicated, very scientifically and engineering based, and sometimes they’ll take years to accomplish.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: So I guess investigators need to follow the scientific method in the water just as they would on land. </p>
<p>STEVE: Absolutely, yeah. The big difference, I would say, is in addition to gathering your data, in the analysis of the data and the development of hypotheses and hypothesis testing, investigators simply have to also be well aware of the nuances of what can happen in the marine environment and how that differs from a shore based situation.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: There seem to be interesting challenges to maritime investigations, and we appreciate you sharing your stories and information with us here at the IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast.</p>
<p>STEVE: One other thing you may want to mention since we’re talking IAAI. IAAI is going to be publishing the users, new users guide to 921. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Thanks Steve. We really appreciate your time.</p>
<p>STEVE: Thank you Rod.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Our major news item for this podcast is the tragic Pizzazz Dog Kennel fire last month in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. During a delivery of propane to the kennel an explosion and devastating fire occurred. The driver of the delivery truck was critically burned and 17 dogs died. One of the possible causes under investigation is static electricity. The science of static electricity and its potency as an ignition source is often poorly understood in the fire investigation community. With us today to shed some light on this subject is Dr. Vahid Ebadat from Chilworth Technology. Dr. Ebadat, thanks for being with us here today. Why don’t we start out with a basic foundation, what is static electricity?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Well I guess in its simplest definition, as the name implies, static electricity is I guess a stationary surplus or deficit of electrical charge</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: What actions can produce static electricity?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Anytime any two surfaces coming together and separating could generate static charge. If you can imagine, for example, every time you put your foot on a floor and then lift it up, your foot could gain say some negative charges, some electrons, and there will be a deficit of electrons remaining on the carpet. I’d like to also go on to say that when I talk about any two surfaces, I mean surfaces that are either solid or solid liquid or two liquids. In other words, gases, pure gases do not generate static electricity.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: As I understand it from aviation, a wing traveling through the air can cause static electricity.</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Not quite. It really is the contact between the wings of the aircraft or the aircraft and any liquid droplets that might be in the sky, you know, in the form of a cloud. Or if there are sand particles in the sky. That is what would generate a static charge on the plane. Not just simply air. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Can you tell us about some other misconceptions about static electricity as a source of ignition?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Well like you said, one of them is that something dropping through air would generate a static charge. So a freefall of liquid through air or a freefall of powder through air generating static charge, and that is really not true. One other major, I guess, misconception is that people think that all electrostatic sparks are created equal and they all have the same amount of energy and those static sparks can ignite any flammable atmosphere, and that is just not true. You know, sometimes we go to investigate an explosion that is considered to have been caused by an electrostatic discharge, and we hear people talking about seeing or hearing someone else talking about very large blue arcs and so on, and that is not very often what electrostatic discharges look like. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: We’ve all experienced static electricity in our daily lives. I know just walking across the carpet and touching a light switch can give you quite a shock. How dangerous though is it really?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Well through, you know, many years of, I guess, studies and research, we have found that in practice the maximum energy that is sparked from a human body can produce would be around 30 millijoules, okay? Now a 30 millijoule spark is like a bad day getting out of your car, getting a hefty spark from your fingertip when touching the car door. Now in contrast many flammable gases and flammable liquids require less than 1 millijoule of energy tritnite. For example, you know, if you have a barbecue grill that uses propane gas, propane gas, under I guess optimum flammability conditions would require a quarter of 1 millijoule of energy to ignite.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: It’s surprising. Static electricity seems to be much more dangerous than many of us realize. </p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Again, it is not so much the spark itself being that hazardous, but it is when you put the spark, where there is a flammable atmosphere. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: How does static electricity initiate an explosion and fire?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Well very often what happens is that you are left somewhere with an ungrounded metal section or you have a plastic pipe or a plastic container or a plastic bag or liner or indeed a person who is wearing shoes with insulating soles, you know, like trainers, for example, sneakers. Now if those types of objects become electrostatically charged up by being rubbed, for example, by another object, then at some point it’s possible that an electrostatic discharge would result. If, at the same, at the same place, you have a flammable gas or solvent vapor atmosphere or sometimes indeed a dust cloud atmosphere, there’s a possibility that the discharge would have enough energy to ignite that atmosphere.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: We can all imagine the vapors of gas igniting, but can you share with us an example or where we wouldn’t have expected static electricity was the ignition source.</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Yes, people know about, you know, as far as gas stations and sparks igniting gasoline vapors, but I would say there are times when electrostatic discharges, for example, from the surface of a powder that is being processed in a plant could ignite it’s own dust clouds. For example, one could be transferring a powder into a silo, into the hopper or into a bag or container and the static charge buildup on the powder is so high that a discharge from the surface of the powder will ignite the dust, it was February or 2008. We read about a huge sugar dust explosion at Imperial Sugar in Georgia, and you know, many people would be surprised to hear that common powders that one could be handling in one’s kitchen could be quite explodable, and some of those powders under the right condition could be ignited by sparks of static electricity. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Are there ever markings or patterns that might be visible that would tell an investigator that a fire was ignited by static electricity?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: In fact, the problem with static electricity very often is that static electricity probably is the least traceable of all ignition sources compared to many other ignition sources. So the problem that you’ve had in the past is that an investigator going to the scene of an incident and after exhausting all possible ignition sources and not having been able to come up with a viable ignition sources, the tendency is to say well we couldn’t find any ignition source, so it must have been static electricity. However, if you go to the scene of an explosion or flash fire and you see the person involved in the fire having worn say sneakers, if you see plastic objects nearby, if you do some electrical testing and you find some ungrounded equipment and so on, these are basically the clues for whether or not static electricity could have played a role in that incident. </p>
<p>INTERVIWER: What laboratory testing is available to assist in making the determination of whether or not static electricity was the cause of a fire?</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Well there’s many laboratory tests that would help in the investigation of electrostatic ignition sources. There are tests that, for example, one can conduct to see how much static charge can build up on a person as he or she walks on a specific surface or when he or she takes her winter coat off or sweater off or lab coat off. There are static tests that one could conduct to see how much charge is generated, if a liquid is being pulled out of a pump or a container, or indeed, if you are pouring powder from a bag or from a scoop, one could quantify the level of static charge that is generated under those conditions. One could also determine how long static charge could sit on a surface, and one could definitely determine the energy or igniting power of a discharge that would result. One could also determine how easily a given flammable atmosphere can be ignited by specific electrostatic discharges. </p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Thanks Dr. Ebadat. All of us from the IAAI CFITrainer.Net are grateful for the time you spent with us today sharing your expertise. </p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: Well certainly it’s been my pleasure and I should also mention that, you know, we do not charge for telephone conversation and we very often encourage investigators who have interest in cases to just pick up the phone and give us a call.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Wow, it’s nice of you to make yourself that available to an investigator. Thanks Dr. Ebadat. All of us from the IAAI and CFITrainer.Net are grateful for your time and expertise.</p>
<p>DR. EBADAT: It’s been my pleasure. Bye-bye.</p>
<p>INTERVIEWER: Finally, let’s turn our attention to a couple of announcements from the IAAI. Time is running short to register for the IAAI Annual Training Conference in Arlington, Texas from May 17th through the 23rd. More than 300 investigators from around the world have already registered for this event, which is the premier networking and professional development opportunity for fire, arson and explosive investigators. Presenters include Dr. John DeHaan, Dr. David Icove, Dr. David Howitt, Daniel Madrzykowksi of NIST, and renowned Texas Rangers criminal investigation experts. To register, please visit firearson.com or contact Deb Bell at 410-451-3473. Voting for the election of IAAI officers and board members as well as an amendment to the IAAI bylaws has begun and will run through noon central daylight time on Tuesday, May 19th. You can vote online in the members section of the IAAI website at www.firearson.com.
IAAI is also establishing a speakers bureau of members who are willing to volunteer their time to assist in the professional development of fire and arson investigator colleagues around the nation and the world. To register, you need to be a member of the IAAI. Applications are available in the members only section of the IAAI website at <a href="http://www.firearson.com" target="_blank">www.firearson.com</a>.
That concludes our time for this CFITrainer.Net podcast. We’ll see you next month.
This program provides a primer on accreditation, certification, and certificates for fire investigation training.
A fire occurred on the night of Feb. 20, 2003, in The Station nightclub at 211 Cowesett Avenue, West Warwick, Rhode Island.
Arc Mapping, or Arc Fault Circuit Analysis, uses the electrical system to help reconstruct a scene, providing investigators with a means of determining the area of a fire’s origin.
This module introduces basic electrical concepts, including: terminology, atomic theory and electricity, Ohm’s Law, Joule’s Law, AC and DC power.
A fire occurred on the evening of June 18, 2007, in the Sofa Super Store in Charleston, SC that resulted in the deaths of nine fire fighters.
This module looks at the many ways fire investigators enter and grow in the profession through academia, the fire service, law enforcement, insurance, and engineering.
This module will present a description of the IAAI organization.
This module takes a closer look at four of the most commonly-reported accidental fire causes according to "NFPA Fact Sheet.
This program brings three highly experienced fire investigators and an attorney with experience as a prosecutor and civil litigator together for a round table discussion.
The program discusses the basics of digital photography for fire investigators as well as software and editing procedures for digital images intended as evidence.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in civil proceedings such as fire loss claims and product defect lawsuits.
This self-paced program is an introduction to discovery in criminal proceedings.
This module covers the foundation of DNA evidence: defining, recognizing, collecting, and testing.
This program provides a practical overview of how to perform the baseline documentation tasks that occur at every scene.
This module will discuss the techniques and strategies for conducting a proper science-based fire scene investigation and effectively presenting an investigator’s findings in court as an expert witness.
This module presents critical electrical safety practices that every fire investigator should implement at every scene, every time.
This self-paced program examines the fire investigator's ethical duties beyond the fire scene.
As social media has emerged as a powerful force in interpersonal communications, fire investigators are being confronted with new questions...
Should you work for a private lab as a consultant if you are on an Arson Task Force? How about accepting discounts from the local hardware store as a “thanks” for a job well done on a fire they had last year?
This module takes investigators into the forensic laboratory and shows them what happens to the different types of fire scene evidence that are typically submitted for testing.
This module teaches the foundational knowledge of explosion dynamics, which is a necessary precursor to investigating an explosion scene.
This module addresses the foundations of fire chemistry and places it within the context of fire scene investigations.
The program is designed to introduce a new Palm/Pocket PC application called CFI Calculator to users and provide examples of how it can be used by fire investigators in the field.
This module examines these concepts to help all professionals tasked with determining fire origin and cause better understand fire flow dynamics so they can apply that knowledge to both to fire investigation and to fire attack.
This module provides a road map for fire officers to integrate and navigate their fire investigation duty with all their other responsibilities and describes where to obtain specific training in fire investigation.
The evaluation of hazards and the assessment of the relative risks associated with the investigation of fires and explosions are critical factors in the management of any investigation.
This module will describe the most commonly encountered fire protection systems.
This module presents best practices in preparing for and conducting the informational interview with witnesses in the fire investigation case.
This module provides instruction on the fundamentals of residential building construction with an eye toward how building construction affects fire development.
This module teaches first responders, including fire, police and EMS, how to make critical observations.
This program discusses how to access insurance information, understand insurance documents, ask key questions of witnesses, and apply the information learned.
This module offers a basic introduction about how some selected major appliances operate.
This program introduces the fire investigator to the issues related to the collection, handling and use of evidence related to a fire investigation.
This program takes you inside the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) archives of some of the most interesting and instructive test burns and fire model simulations they have ever conducted.
The program provides foundational background on the scope of the youth-set fire problem, the importance of rigorous fire investigation in addressing this problem, and the role of key agencies in the response to a youth-set fire.
This module provides a thorough understanding of the ways an investigation changes when a fire-related death occurs.
This self-paced program will help you understand what to expect at a fire where an LODD has occurred, what your role is, how to interact with others, and how to handle special circumstances at the scene.
This program will introduce the fire investigator to the basic methodologies use to investigate vehicle fires.
This module presents the role natural gas can play in fire ignition, fuel load, and spread; the elements of investigating a fire in a residence where natural gas is present; and the potential role the gas utility or the municipality can play an investigation.
This self-paced program covers fundamental legal aspects of investigating youth-set fires, including the juvenile justice system, legalities of interviews and interrogations, arson statutes, search and seizure, and confidentiality.
This program discusses the latest developments in expert testimony under the Daubert standard, including the MagneTek case recently decided in the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
This module focuses on how to manage investigations that have “complicating” factors.
This module uses the Motive, Means, and Opportunity case study to demonstrate how responsibility is determined in an arson case.
This program covers the general anatomy of a motor vehicle and a description of typical components of the engine, electrical, ignition, and fuel systems.
This self-paced program is the second part of a two-part basic introduction to motor vehicle systems. This program describes the function and major components of the transmission, exhaust, brake, and accessory systems.
This module educates the investigator about NFPA 1033’s importance, its requirements, and how those requirements impact the fire investigator’s professional development.
This module reviews the major changes included in the documents including the use of color photos in NFPA 921 and additional material that supports the expanded required knowledge list in NFPA 1033 Section 1.3.7.
The program illustrates for the fire investigator, how non-traditional fire scene evidence can be helpful during an investigation.
This module introduces the postflashover topic, describes ventilation-controlled fire flow, illustrates how the damage left by a postflashover can be significantly different than if that fire was extinguished preflashover.
This module lays the groundwork for understanding marine fires by covering four basic concepts that the investigator must understand before investigating a marine fire.
In this module, you will learn more about how cancer develops, what occupational exposure risks to carcinogens exist at fire scenes, and how to better protect yourself against those exposures.
The use of the process of elimination in the determination of a fire cause is a topic that has generated significant discussion and controversy in the fire investigation profession.
This module teaches the basics of the electrical power generation, distribution, and transmission system.
This module presents the basics of natural gas and its uses and system components in a residence.
This module explains the principles of search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, as contained in the amendment and according to subsequent case law, and applies them to typical fire scene scenarios.
One of the legal proceedings that may require the fire investigator to testify is a deposition. Depositions are often related to civil proceedings, but more and more jurisdictions are using them in criminal cases.
Deposing attorneys employ a variety of tactics to learn about the expert witness giving testimony, to try to unsettle that witness to see how he/she handles such pressure, and to probe for weaknesses to exploit.
This module provides introductory information on the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard – 29 CFR 1910.120.
The program examines the importance of assessing the impact of ventilation on a fire.
This module demonstrates the investigative potential of information stored on electronic devices.
This module explains the relationship between NFPA 1033 and NFPA 921
The basics of the scientific method are deceptively simple: observe, hypothesize, test, and conclude.
This module addresses the foundations of thermometry, including the definition of temperature, the scales used to measure temperature and much more.
This program presents the results of flame experiments conducted with a candle.
This self-paced program explains to non-investigators the role of the fire investigator, what the fire investigator does, how the fire investigator is trained, what qualifications the fire investigator must meet.
This module will untangle the meanings of "undetermined," straighten out how to use the term correctly, talk about how not to use it, and describe how to properly report fires where "undetermined" is the cause or classification.
This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
This module provides an overview on how structures can become vacant and eventually abandoned.
This self-paced program provides a basic framework for structuring the management of fire cases and fire investigators.
This module illustrates how wildland fires spread, explains how to interpret burn patterns unique to these types of fires.
This module presents the key elements of the initial origin and cause report and methods of clearly presenting findings in a professional manner.