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.
Welcome to IAAI’s April 2010 CFITrainer.Net Podcast. This month’s podcast focuses on the first of our two-part safety series called "It Could Happen To You." In part one, our roundtable participants discuss some of the accidents they’ve been involved in at the fire scene, the dangers of acute injuries at the fire scene, and what steps you can take to work the scene safely. In a future podcast, we will present a second roundtable on the health hazards of long-term exposure to fire scenes, as a follow-up.
Our roundtable is moderated by Robert Schaal, current President of IAAI, an ATF Senior Special Agent, and the Supervisor of the Arson and Explosives Group in New Orleans.
ROBERT SCHAAL: Hello, I’m Bobby Schaal, the President of the International Association of Arson Investigators. I’m here with Rick Jones of the Forensic Investigation Group in Covington, Louisiana and David Kircher with O’Neill & Associates Fire Investigation in Somerville, New Jersey for the start of our safety series, "It Can Happen To You." We’re going to be talking about a few fire scene related incidents and hopefully stress and improve the safety process. Rick, let’s talk about one of your incidents that we discussed previously, a fire investigation you conducted up in Mississippi.
RICK JONES: Good afternoon Bobby. My name is Rick Jones. I was looking at a fire in the northern portion of Mississippi, which I was not familiar with. I traveled from south Louisiana up to look at this fire. This was a fatality fire in a manufactured home. So the floor had had some water on it and it had already swelled and was pretty weak. I was digging the living room out where the origin of the fire was - the main portion of the fire was located, and the floor gave way and I reached, tried to catch myself and pushed my hand through a window, a glass window, and I cut my hand pretty bad cutting some of the major blood vessels causing a lot of bleeding and this was my right hand. I exited the building because it was bleeding really bad and wrapped my shirt that I had on around it. Trying to figure out how I was going to get my keys out of my pocket and not let go of my hand. I tried waving down a car that was passing and they went right around me and kept going. This was a bald headed guy covered in blood and a fire scene and they didn’t want to stop. Not knowing the area, once I got my keys and got into my vehicle I didn’t know where to go. I hadn’t pre-planned the area, didn’t know where the hospitals were at. I remember going through a small town gas station area, and I was able to get back to there and ask for directions. Without me knowing it the hospital was right across the street from the gas station where I stopped to get directions. But the main thing I think that affected the scene was that I didn’t pre-plan it and have any idea where medical treatment was or how to get any. I didn’t have a GPS at the time and if I would have used my cell phone to call 911, I didn’t have anything but the address to give them and not sure that I would have got 911 in that location.
ROBERT SCHAAL: Well what changes have you made to your scene processing tactics when you’re in unfamiliar areas now? Do you pre-plan out some of these hospital locations or first aid stations or do you carry your own first aid kit and have you established a protocol for staying in contact with your office to make sure they are familiar with where you are when you enter the scene and exit the scene.
RICK JONES: Yes, I do. I have a GPS that I use now that has hospital/first aid stations programmed into it. A lot of times I’ll check and make sure that I have an idea of where something’s at before I get out on the scene if I’m by myself. I’ve been practicing here lately that I try to take someone with me as well as I have a first aid kit with me when I go to the scene, which I did not have when I initially got hurt on this one.
ROBERT SCHAAL: David, let’s jump to you now. We’ve talked about your incident several times over the past few years, and I think your incident goes back to when you were actually in the fire suppression business, but nonetheless, it drives home the fact that fire scenes are very dangerous places and you have to be careful and know what’s going on or there’s the potential to get hurt. Why don’t we talk about the valve cock incident that you experienced a number of years ago?
DAVID KIRCHER: Yeah, Bobby, Dave Kircher. A number of years ago, myself, two other firefighters and a driver responded to a smell of, an odor of natural gas in a house, and when we arrived on the scene, this is back in the days before gas meters and sensors and all those kinds of testing equipment were commonly carried on the rigs and things like that and we actually responded a lot of times to what we called stow alarms without even putting turnout gear on - calls like that. In this particular case, we entered a building that had an odor of natural gas, went down to the basement and determined that as we were venting the house that the natural gas was coming the hot water boiler, and I reached up to turn the cock that was the supply for the boiler, and as I turned it off I said that’s not the right cock and I turned it back on and with that the front door of the boiler blew off and went across the room. I was standing next to the door and the door missed me by an inch. The entire building erupted. According to the driver who was standing out in front of the building, it actually lifted up off the foundation and settled back down on the foundation. My partner - who was standing right behind me - we were looking at each other, or we were trying to look at each other through all the dust and everything else, I was trying to clear my eyes and everything, I turned around and I said to him are you all right? And he turned around to me and said don’t ever do that again. And I’m like, you know what - we’ve been trained a thousand times, every firefighter knows once you turn a switch, once you turn a cock, once you do anything in a natural gas filled environment that you don’t retrace, you don’t do anything backwards, and not even thinking about it. Complacency, whatever you want to call it, didn’t think and that one turn in a fraction of a second could have ended both of our lives. The third firefighter, who was brand new at the time, was standing at stairs and ran out of the building and the chauffeur saw him coming out after the explosion and asked where we were, my partner and I, and he said well they’re still in the bottom of the building in the basement and then he - the driver, who was an older gentleman, threw the other guy back down the stairs, and all we saw of him was tumbling back down the stairs and he said go back down and get him because he ran out of there and got scared, ran out of there and left us there, and because he was relatively new didn’t realize the buddy system and everything else, you don’t leave your partners behind.
ROBERT SCHAAL: What did you carry away from that incident as you moved on from suppression ultimately into the fire investigation arena?
DAVID KIRCHER: A huge common word. THINK - and avoid complacency. Always think about what you’re doing. Don’t forget your training because it could happen in the blink of an eye.
ROBERT SCHAAL: Was that one of your defining moments on why you are actively involved in the IAAI safety committee and trying to develop safety programs and get the word out there?
ROBERT SCHAAL: Well, Rick, let’s jump back to another incident that you had recently, and again, I think it goes back to the importance of doing a preliminary scene assessment to judge the condition of the structure and what type of remediation you might need to do. I think this was a fire you worked down here in Louisiana. Why don’t you go into detail about that a little bit?
RICK JONES: This happened this year. It was very unusual for Louisiana. We had a snow day and we had several inches of snow on the ground. This was a home, a two story, and the upper portion roof structure was burned off having the second floor exposed to the snow. Had several inches of snow within the fire debris. I was walking on the second floor, taking photographs, documenting the scene when the floor beneath me gave loose and I fell through the floor rafters dangling above the first floor. I had someone with me that day that was able to come and rescue me and pull me back up out of the floor. It would easily have been an 8 or 10 foot fall, you know, if I wouldn’t have fortunately straddled a gas pipe that was running through the floor in this area that I fell through as well as something caused some damage to my shins and to the inner portion of my leg, I again received a pretty bad cut on the inner portion of my leg and had to have a few stitches to fix that.
ROBERT SCHAAL: Do you feel that your experience from the first Mississippi incident better prepared you to handle this? I mean, you went through some different protocols, you had a backup investigator there with you, you did a little more pre-planning on what you were going to do if there was scene accident. Do you think the first experience helped you in the second incident?
RICK JONES: I do. We had an idea that if something happens, how he was going to handle it, he wasn’t going to come running up to where I had fell through a floor or whatever because then he would end up on top of me or fall through it as well and that wouldn’t help. So we had an idea of what we were going to do if it ever happened and we have some boards on our vehicle now that we try to lay across the floor joists to get to one another if something like this was to happen. And it did, and he went immediately, got a board, was able to find the floor joists and lay it across for me to be able to brace myself back up on the board and pull myself back up out of the floor and used the board that we had laid down to get back out of it.
ROBERT SCHAAL: So the pre-planning really kind of helped you minimize the consequences on that fire, and I think that’s what NFTA921 is trying to do in Chapter 12, the safety chapter, stressing the importance of pre-planning and safety briefings and analyzing the scene, and I know Ron Hopkins recently had a working task group that extensively revised Chapter 12 trying to improve the available information regarding scene safety to people, and it’s in the proposal process right now and we look forward to seeing that language in the new addition of 921 coming out in the near future. Safety is a real problem on fire scenes, and as much as we try and get the word out there, I think what Dave talked about and what you talked about, people just overlook it. They get complacent, they get that macho, hero type syndrome where they don’t think it can happen to them, but these safety problems are real and they can happen to you. So I appreciate you guys coming on to discuss these with us. I hope people understand that the risks associated fire scene investigation are real and take the precautions, and I look forward to presenting more of these it can happen to you scenarios so people really take this safety message to heart and I look forward to the continued efforts of the IAAI developing safety related training and safety related programs.
We can take away the following safety reminders from today’s roundtable:
Finally, we close with news from IAAI.
Time is running out to register for the IAAI Annual Training Conference from May 16 thru 21st this year in Orlando, Florida. To learn more about this year’s seminars, FIT credential coursework, and Orlando area attractions, watch the ATC video preview available at cfitrainer.net/OrlandoATC or you can go to www.firearson.com
That concludes this IAAI CFITrainer.Net podcast. We’ll see you again next month.
This program provides a primer on accreditation, certification, and certificates for fire investigation training.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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This program presents the results of flame experiments conducted with a candle.
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This module will advise fire investigators on how to approach the fact-finding procedures necessary and validate a hypothesis.
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This module presents the key elements of the initial origin and cause report and methods of clearly presenting findings in a professional manner.